Verdict of Hong Kong's largest national security case will be an important precedent: legal experts

By Chen Qingqing (Global Times) 10:48, November 30, 2023

Photo taken on May 4, 2020 shows the High Court in Hong Kong, south China.(Photo: Xinhua)

Photo taken on May 4, 2020 shows the High Court in Hong Kong, south China. (Photo: Xinhua)

The largest national security case in Hong Kong entered the final stage as dozens of former local politicians and separatist activists involved in the infamous "35-plus" political project in 2020 began the closing argument on Wednesday.

Some legal experts believe the verdict of this case will become an important precedent in Hong Kong's legal system.

The Hong Kong Police Force arrested 53 people including Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting and anti-government lawmakers and district councilors such as Joshua Wong in February 2021. The case entered the trial process in March 2021 and was successively transferred from the district court to the High Court, during which 31 people pleaded guilty and 16 others denied the charges.

The prosecution argued that the intent of the legislation was to safeguard national security and that even if the defendants believed the primaries were legal, it does not constitute a defense. And the judge estimated that it might take an additional three to four months to reach a verdict, according to local media reports.

During the prosecution's closing arguments, it was noted that Article 22 of the National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong categorizes illegal acts into two types: those involving "force or the threat of force" and those involving "other unlawful means." For the latter, the court should adopt a broader interpretation to ensure national security and fulfill the legislative intent of combating and punishing actions that threaten national security.

The prosecution explained that in the past, subverting the government often required armed revolution, but in today's era, people can use social media platforms and other means to endanger national security non-violently, such as by spreading rumors online. Therefore, the definition of "unlawful means" should not be limited to the use or threat of force.

The prosecution further argued that the misuse of legislative council member powers in itself constitutes "unlawful" activity, according to media reports.

The case was originally scheduled for a 90-day trial. However, due to extended proceedings involving the summoning of witnesses by both the prosecution and defense, and the defendants' testimonies, the trial ultimately exceeded expectations, lasting 115 days, culminating in closing arguments by both sides today, Louis Chen, a member of the Election Committee and general secretary of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

After the oral submissions are completed, the court will adjourn to set a date for announcing the verdict and for sentencing the remaining 31 defendants who have pleaded guilty. It is believed that they can be processed in 2024, Chen said.

"It is the first case under the NSL for Hong Kong and has attracted a lot of international attention," the expert said, noting that the verdict of this case will become an important precedent in Hong Kong's common law system.

It will also set an example for national security legal issues potentially in other common law jurisdictions and set some standards and directions for the NSL for Hong Kong.

In response to a question about the closing argument on Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday that this is not a diplomatic question. But he also emphasized that Hong Kong is a city of rule of law, and the central government supports local judiciary institution to fulfill responsibilities in accordance to the law.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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