Verdict demonstrates HKSAR’s judicial independence, serves as strong deterrent to destabilizing forces
Published: May 30, 2024 10:08 PM
Hong Kong file photo

Hong Kong file photo

Fourteen of the 16 defendants who pleaded not guilty over the infamous "35-plus" political strategy that aimed to subvert state power were found guilty on Thursday. Some experts said this highlights the powerful role of the National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong in safeguarding national security, Hong Kong's political system, and its political order. 

It also serves as a strong deterrent to anti-China and destabilizing forces both domestically and externally, experts said. 

The Hong Kong West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts ruled on Thursday that 14 anti-China figures, including former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung and Helena Wong Pik-wan, were guilty of conspiracy to subvert state power.

Barrister and former district councilor Lawrence Lau Wai-chung and Lee Yue-shun were acquitted. Local media reported that they are also the first national security law defendants to be acquitted after trial since the legislation's implementation in June 2020. Local media reported that Hong Kong's Department of Justice has announced it intends to appeal the acquittal. 

Dozens of former local politicians and extreme separatist activists in other sectors involved in the infamous political strategy in 2020, including former legal professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting and secessionist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, already pleaded guilty to "conspiring to subvert state power" in August 2022.

According to the summary of the court's judgment, the indiscriminate vetoing of the government's proposed fiscal budget or public expenditure to force the government to respond to the so-called five demands violated the requirement to uphold the Basic Law, causing a constitutional crisis in Hong Kong.

Between July 1, 2020, and January 7, 2021, the 16 defendants conspired with others to engage in a scheme to severely interfere with, obstruct, or destroy the HKSAR's government organs' lawful performance of their functions by illegal means, with the aim of subverting state power.

The prosecution stated that the defendants agreed to take a series of actions if elected as Legislative Council (LegCo) members in the 2020 LegCo election and and if they gain a majority, they would indiscriminately veto any government-proposed fiscal budget or public expenditure, regardless of its merits or content, intending to force the Chief Executive to respond to the so-called five demands.

The court found that using the veto to achieve the five demands certainly amounted to "serious interference, obstruction, and destruction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)'s government organs' lawful performance of their functions" as specified in the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

The judge also mentioned in the judgment that the ultimate purpose and intention of the "35-plus" political strategy were very clear in March and April 2020. The first defendant, former law professor Tai, publicly stated that the plan aimed to disrupt, destroy, or overthrow the existing political system and the system established in the HKSAR under the Basic Law and the One Country, Two Systems principle.

The ruling demonstrates the court's determination that a conspiracy to subvert state power occurred in this case, with the intent to undermine, destroy, or overthrow the current political system and structure of the HKSAR established by the Basic Law and the One Country, Two Systems principle, HKSAR Chief Executive John Lee said on Thursday. 

The HKSAR has the responsibility to safeguard national security and will resolutely combat actions and activities that endanger national security. The HKSAR government will strictly enforce the law and rigorously uphold it, making every effort to prevent, stop, and punish behaviors and activities that threaten national security, fulfilling this unquestionable duty, Lee said. 

Regarding the argument that under the NSL for Hong Kong, the crime of subverting state power through "other illegal means" should be limited to the use of force or the threat of force, the court considered this a narrow interpretation that contradicts the legislative intent of the law, Willy Fu, a law professor who is also the director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

"The term 'other illegal means' refers not only to criminal acts but also includes means other than the use of force or the threat of force," Fu said. 

Lawmakers collectively shoulder constitutional responsibilities, and Article 104 of the Basic Law requires legislators to swear to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the SAR. 

"Indiscriminately rejecting the budget bill to force the government to respond to the five demands violates the Basic Law. Parliamentary privileges are not absolute privileges," Fu said, noting that paralyzing the operation of the LegCo involves not only anti-China forces but also foreign and external forces who interfere and cause disruption through legislative and administrative means.

In response to some Western countries' criticism of the verdict on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that the central government firmly supports the law enforcement and judicial authorities in the HKSAR in carrying out their duties in accordance with the law and punishing all acts that undermine national security, and firmly opposes certain country's interference in China's internal affairs and attempt to smear and undermine Hong Kong's rule of law by using relevant case.  

Legal experts believe that the court's ruling is reasonable, beyond dispute, and demonstrates judicial independence and the justice of the rule of law.

"The case process fully embodies the spirit of the rule of law and the NSL for Hong Kong," Louis Chen, a member of the Election Committee and general secretary of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times on Thursday.

In response to comments made by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the spokesperson for the European External Action Service, and the consulates general of the US, the UK, and other countries in Hong Kong regarding the lawful judgment by the Hong Kong court, a spokesperson of the Commissioner's Office of China's Foreign Ministry in the HKSAR expressed strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition on Thursday. "Those remarks openly defame Hong Kong's democracy, freedom, human rights, and rule of law, and wantonly smear Hong Kong's status as an international financial center, while beautifying and exonerating anti-China disruptors in Hong Kong and interfering with the legitimate judiciary of the HKSAR."

The spokesperson pointed out that no one can engage in illegal activities under the guise of democracy and expect to escape legal punishment. Those anti-China disruptors conspired to seize control of the LegCo through the so-called primaries with the intention of paralyzing the HKSAR government, undermining, destroying, or overthrowing the current political system and framework established by the Basic Law and the One Country, Two Systems principle. 

The judicial authorities of the HKSAR handled the case according to law, fully preventing, stopping, and punishing actions that endanger national security. This is reasonable, legal, and just, and should not be subject to criticism. The central government firmly supports this, the spokesperson said.