The charges relate to the primaries, which were aimed at choosing the best candidates for the legislative elections, which were later delayed.
Hundreds of people gathered outside a Hong Kong court on Monday for the appearance of 47 democracy activists and politicians accused of subversion under Beijing’s national security law, as authorities step up crackdowns under of legislation.
The group is accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial primary poll last July, which aimed to select the strongest candidates for a legislative council election which the government then postponed, citing the coronavirus.
Authorities said the informal poll was part of a plan to “overthrow” the government.
These cases have drawn criticism from the United States and New Zealand. A number of Western diplomats were among those who lined up for court seats before the hearing began.
“We condemn the detention and charges against pan-democratic Hong Kong election candidates and call for their immediate release,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter. “Political participation and freedom of expression should not be crimes. The United States supports the people of Hong Kong. “
Also on Twitter, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the charges marked “an escalation in national security law enforcement” and that New Zealand was “concerned” and would monitor the situation.
The accusations are the latest blow to the territory’s pro-democracy movement, which has come under pressure since the security law was imposed on the city last June. Some elected lawmakers have been disqualified, while dozens of politicians and activists arrested and others have fled abroad.
Security was tight as supporters began to rally before dawn outside West Kowloon courthouse in one of the largest rallies since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is the most ridiculous arrest in Hong Kong history,” said Herbert Chow, 57, who was standing in line in court and wearing a black mask.
“But I trust our justice system to restore justice. It is the last line of defense.
4) What the 47 did wrong according to the police and prosecutors: pic.twitter.com/QmjhqV2e9Z
– Xinqi Su 苏 昕 琪 (@XinqiSu) March 1, 2021
The activists – 39 men and eight women, aged 23 to 64 – were indicted on Sunday under the National Security Law which punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces up to life imprisonment.
Among them were primary election organizer and former law professor Benny Tai, as well as veteran activists Lester Shum, Joshua Wong and Owen Chow.
“I’ve been here since 5 am. We have been taking shifts since yesterday. Our friend is one of the accused, “said Kristine, 20.” I want to tell my friend that we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for our city. “
Some supporters held up large yellow banners saying, “Free all political prisoners now”.