Fourteen Hong Kong democrats found guilty in landmark subversion trial

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Fourteen Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were found guilty and two were acquitted on Thursday in a landmark subversion trial that critics say could deal another blow to the city’s rule of law and its reputation as a global financial hub.

The verdicts in Hong Kong’s biggest trial against the democratic opposition come more than three years after police arrested 47 democrats in mass dawn raids at homes across the city. They were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a China-imposed national security law.

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Sentencing will come at a later date for those found guilty, with prison terms ranging from three years to life for this national security offence. Thirty-one defendants pleaded guilty, and four of them have become prosecution witnesses.

The U.S. and some other countries have criticized the trial as politically motivated, calling for the accused to be immediately released.

Security was tight around the High Court, where diplomats from the U.S., Britain and Europe have attended proceedings. Scores of police officers and vehicles patrolled the area. Some supporters queued overnight to secure a spot.

“I came because it’s a critical stage and a historical moment” for Hong Kong, said a man who gave only his surname, Chiu, 35, who began waiting at midnight. The defendants “all stood up for themselves and for Hong Kong people, hoping to make a change”.

The defendants are accused of a “vicious plot” to paralyze government and force the city’s leader to resign through an unofficial pre-selection ballot in a July 2020 citywide election. The democrats maintain it was an unofficial attempt to select the strongest candidates in a bid to win a historic majority in Hong Kong’s legislature.

Mass pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 against Beijing’s plans for security legislation that democrats argued infringed on freedoms guaranteed when Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997.

Most of the accused have been detained since Feb. 28, 2021, and were subjected to marathon bail hearings.

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