Fourteen Hong Kong democrats found guilty of subversion

PETER PARKS/ AFP

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 dawn raids at homes across the city. They were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a national security law imposed by China.

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

The US and some other countries have criticised the trial as politically motivated, calling for the accused to be immediately released. Diplomats from several countries including the US and the European Union attended the hearing.

Security was tight around the High Court, with scores of police officers and vehicles patrolling the area. 

The defendants are accused of a "vicious plot" to paralyse government and force the city's leader to resign through a 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.

Summarising their verdict, Judges Andrew Chan, Alex Lee and Johnny Chan wrote that if the defendants had succeeded, it would have created "a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong" and led to "serious interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the (Hong Kong) government."

Several defendants, including activists Owen Chow and Gwyneth Ho, appeared stony-faced in the dock as the verdicts were delivered to a packed courtroom.

Those convicted also include former democratic lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting and Helena Wong.

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