Dozens of Hong Kong opposition figures have spent four days in court already this week to see if they will be jailed for months ahead of their trials on national security charges, but the unusually long arraignment might have already done lasting damage to the judiciary’s reputation.
The 47 defendants — including prominent democracy advocates Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), Benny Tai (戴耀廷) and Jimmy Sham (岑子杰), as well as numerous past and current lawmakers — have been in and out of court since Monday. Sessions have stretched late into the night, prompting some defendants to seek hospital care, and causing foreign observers to wonder whether the conditions made it harder to mount a sufficient defense and provided possible grounds for appeal.
The hearings resumed for a fourth day yesterday, after adjourning the previous session at 8:30pm. The first day lasted from 11am on Monday until about 3am on Tuesday, after one defendant collapsed and was taken to a hospital.
At least five others have since been taken to the hospital after saying they felt unwell, local media reported.
“The unprecedented marathon, almost around-the-clock, four-day hearing makes a farce of procedural fairness,” said Jerome Cohen, founder of the US-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law and one of the US’ foremost legal experts on China. “No single magistrate can fairly deal with the individual circumstances of 47 different bail applications in such a short time.”
“The court system should never have arranged such a chaotic judicial review that has made Hong Kong’s formerly revered judicial system look like the willing instrument of the police and prosecution,” Cohen said.
The Hong Kong Department of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday that demanding the defendants’ release “undermines the rule of law and is seen as an attempt to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs, which are internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China.”
The 47 were charged with “conspiracy to subversion” over their roles in a primary vote in July last year that drew 600,000 participants ahead of planned Legislative Council elections that were later delayed.
“In many ways, it’s the government putting Hong Kong’s legal system in jeopardy — they don’t seem to pause and think how bad this looks for Hong Kong,” said Michael Davis, a professor of law and international affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in India.
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