HONG KONG | Hundreds of pro-democracy activists gathered on Monday outside a Hong Kong court, chanting slogans in support of 47 figures from the pro-democracy camp indicted for “subversion”.
Beijing embarked on a strong takeover of its semi-autonomous region in 2020, in the wake of the immense mobilization for democracy that shook the former British colony for months in 2019.
One of the main tools of this crackdown is a draconian national security law, under which the 47 activists were indicted on Sunday for “subversion”.
This decision has been strongly condemned by Western capitals, starting with Washington and London, which accuse Beijing of reneging on its promise to preserve Hong Kong freedoms made at the time of the handover by Great Britain in 1997.
And Monday’s hearing, during which these charges were to be confirmed, was the occasion for a protest rally on a scale unprecedented for several months in the city.
The almost permanent assembly bans ordered to fight against the coronavirus had allowed the authorities to prevent almost all attempts to demonstrate.
Hundreds of people had turned up early Monday morning at Kowloon court, where a large police force had been deployed, in the hope of entering the courtroom.
“Free Hong Kong”
“Free political prisoners,” “Free Hong Kong, the revolution of our time,” chanted protesters, a slogan that is now illegal under the National Security Act.
Some made the three-fingered salute, a symbol of resistance in several Asian countries, such as Thailand or Burma.
Throughout the afternoon, the tension did not stop fluctuating. The police held up signs warning that the rally and the chants sung were illegal.
In front of the court, the police dispersed the demonstrators, citing restrictions linked to COVID-19.
The crowd largely agreed to comply with this injunction. Some, leaving the scene, did not fail to jostle the police and sing songs.
Kwan Chun-sang, a local councilor, spent the night on the street near the courtroom to make sure he was among the first in the queue to access the public benches in the courtroom. .
“Shortly after the prosecution was launched yesterday, I decided to come and spend the night here,” he told AFP. “I want to show my support for pro-democracy activists. “
A small group of government supporters were also outside the courthouse to shout their support for the authorities.
“Punish traitors severely, enforce the security law and throw them behind bars,” read one banner.
Those indicted on Sunday represent a very broad spectrum of local opposition, with former lawmakers like Claudia Mo, academics like Benny Tai, lawyers, social workers and many younger activists like Joshua Wong, already in prison. another matter.
The accused were so numerous that three courtrooms had been reserved. After a brief appearance, the hearing was moved to the end of the afternoon.
They are being continued with regard to the opposition primaries, in which 600,000 people participated in July, with a view to capitalizing on the immense popularity of the 2019 mobilization in the September legislative elections – finally postponed for a year. on the pretext of the coronavirus.
These primaries sparked the wrath of China which presented them as a “serious provocation”, an attempt to paralyze the city government, and warned that the campaign could fall under the “subversion” law under the law on the national security.
Most of these candidates were subsequently disqualified by the authorities.
But Beijing’s critics believe that its rejection of the primaries ultimately means that any form of opposition is now illegal in Hong Kong.
The 47 activists were arrested at the beginning of January during a wide net and indicted Sunday for “conspiracy to commit an act of subversion”.
Subversion is along with secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, one of the four crimes covered by the national security law that Beijing imposed at the end of June 2020 and which provides for life sentences.
“All the important voices of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong are now either imprisoned, or in exile, or charged with subversion”, denounced in a tweet the activist Sophie Mak.