The Letters of the Law

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A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted 14 out of 16 pro-democracy activists charged with conspiracy to subvert the state, a pivotal ruling that marks the most significant legal action under Beijing’s sweeping national security law, NBC News reported.

The activists, including prominent figures such as legal scholar Benny Tai and former lawmaker Claudia Mo, were among 47 individuals charged in relation to their roles in a primary election nearly four years ago.

The objective of the primaries, held in July 2020, was to strategically select pro-democracy candidates for the legislative elections scheduled for September that year. However, the authorities alleged that the primaries were aimed at destabilizing the government, constituting a breach of the national security law.

In 2020, Beijing passed a sweeping national security law in response to the mass protests that gripped Hong Kong a year earlier.

The legislation criminalized secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with authorities saying the new measures were necessary to maintain stability in the city.

Meanwhile, the court acquitted two defendants, marking the first instance of such an outcome under the security law. The remaining defendants, along with 31 others who had earlier pleaded guilty in the hope of getting reduced sentences, face life in prison, according to Agence France-Presse.

Sentencing is expected later in the year.

The trial has been viewed as a crucial moment for Hong Kong’s autonomy and the future of its pro-democracy movement. Critics said that the convictions signal a worrying trend of eroding freedoms and political suppression, echoing concerns raised since the 2019 mass anti-government demonstrations.

While some nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have condemned the trial as politically motivated, Chinese officials maintain that the national security law upholds the rule of law and stability in the region.

In March, Hong Kong’s legislature – dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists – passed its version of a national security law, referred to locally as Article 23.

Earlier this week, the city’s authorities arrested six people under that law, charging them with publishing seditious content on social media.

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