Hong Kong’s legal system is being undermined by China’s national security law imposed almost two years ago. Now, the access to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, a norm of customary international law, is being challenged, as reported by the BBC.
The national security law has completely altered the territory’s political situation. It has restricted free speech and closed-down civil society organizations. Moreover, only Beijing-approved candidates are accepted for elections.
As for the law sector, defendants will be detained after being charged, while previously, they were allowed to stay free until their trial.
Critics suppose that this pretrial detainment would weaken defendants’ right to be innocent until proven guilty. In addition, the detention is designed to erode the defendants’ will.
A hearing scheduled for Thursday, April 28, is an example of this change in the bail rules. The 47 defendants involved include Hong Kong’s most famous pro-democracy activists, Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho, and Sam Cheung.
They are accused of offenses related to a primary to choose candidates for a local election held in Hong Kong in July 2020. Most of them have remained in custody since January 2021, and access to bail has been denied. Since then, they have been kept in prison.
According to Reuters, the hearing on Thursday would discuss the case’s progress, but it was finally adjourned to June 1-2 by West Kowloon magistrate Peter Law.
The actual trial might take place until next year.
Samuel Bickett, an activist lawyer from the United States, claims that imprisonment without a specific end-time undermines the defendants’ resolve to resist the charges against them.
The activist said that, at first, most of the defendants were optimistic and told him that they would keep fighting the charges. However, everything changed when he had a conversation with them one year later.
He said, “Then this year when I reconnected with them again in prison their mood had changed. They were really down.”
According to Bickett, the authorities are trying to weigh down the defendants’ will. “They put them in prison and don’t try them with anything, and just wait and wait and wait – until they plead guilty,” he said.
Eric Lai, who studies the territory’s legal system at Georgetown University in the United States, supposed that Beijing instigation has urged the Hong Kong government to make the cases for non-protest-related offenses to be more serious. Previously, these types of cases would not last for more than one year.
He said, “The Hong Kong government has created a system of de facto long-term detention without trial.”
Lai continued, “They just want to put them in jail as early as they can, which is not justice.”
The research conducted by Lai and his two colleagues has revealed that the national security law has sent 183 people to prison between its introduction in July 2020 and March this year.
Three-quarters of 113 accused defendants have been rejected for bail requests.
Of all those arrested, only nine have so far been convicted.