A bail hearing for 47 campaigners, election candidates and activists charged with national security offences in Hong Kong has resumed after at least four defendants were taken away by ambulance during Monday’s marathon session, which lasted until 3am.
The group have been charged under Hong Kong’s national security law with conspiracy to commit subversion in relation to an unofficial pan-democratic primary poll held last year before legislative elections that were later postponed.
Prosecutors sought to have bail denied and the case adjourned for three months to allow further time for investigation. The defence objected, questioning why charges had been laid if the case was so far off readiness. By 11pm on Monday, just six submissions had been processed.
The democrat and district councillor Clarisse Yeung fainted in the courtroom at about 1.45am and was taken to hospital. The businessman Mike Lam, district councillor Roy Tam and former legislator Leung Kwok-hung “Long Hair” were also taken away by ambulance, according to local media. A co-defendant, Andy Chui Chi-kin, was reportedly admitted to hospital for unknown reasons before Monday’s hearing.
A post on Yeung’s Facebook page said she had eaten lunch at midday and had not been given food again until midnight because of long court delays. She was on a saline drip and awaiting a CT scan on Tuesday, it said.
The court had struggled to accommodate all members of the prosecution, defence team, and the 47 charged individuals. There were claims that some defendants could not speak to their legal teams, and further complications caused by the unexpected arrest of one defence lawyer, reportedly on suspicion of obstructing officers.
More than 1,000 supporters gathered outside the court on Monday, protesting against the detention of what they call the “political prisoners”. The South China Morning Post reported 42 people had been fined for violating Covid-19 gathering rules, and the crowds did not return the next day.
Tuesday’s hearing began without Yeung in attendance. Benny Tai, the accused organiser of the polls, was also not present as he was appearing before court in a different case.
Authorities allege the defendants plotted to select candidates who could win a majority of the 70 legislative council seats, with the intent to indiscriminately block legislation, “paralyse” parliament, and force the resignation of the chief executive.
Fifty-five people were arrested over the polls in January, drawing international condemnation, and scepticism even from some pro-Beijing politicians, who noted the primary polls were unofficial but common on both sides of Hong Kong politics.
Authorities have not said whether they intend to charge the remaining eight, which includes the American lawyer John Clancey.
Using the national security law, Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have mounted a broad and heavy-handed crackdown on all signs of opposition, pledging to ensure only “patriots” – Communist party loyalists – can govern in Hong Kong.
The head of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has called for the “severe punishment” of three prominent activists, two of whom are among those charged this week.
Xia Baolong said in a recent speech that the jailed activist Joshua Wong and legal scholar Tai were “the most vicious traitors”, according to a transcript published by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia magazine.
It is widely expected that China’s “two sessions” parliamentary forums, which begin this week, will announce new electoral laws for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s security secretary, John Lee Ka-chiu, defended the national security law at a webinar on Monday during a UN human rights council meeting.
“The effect of the law is obvious and direct,” he said, according to a transcript. “Violence has dropped significantly. Advocacy of Hong Kong independence subsided. People arrested for offences in public order incidents have dropped by 50% in five months. Stability and order have been restored.”
Associated Press contributed to this report