Hong Kong court hears mitigation pleas from Joshua Wong, other democrats

By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong should be considered an active participant in a landmark subversion case involving 47 democrats, his lawyer said on Friday, but urged a court to hand him a lighter sentence for entering his plea early.

Wong, 27, who wore a gray sweater and navy blue shirt in court, was one of dozens of democratic activists arrested in 2021 for participating in an unofficial poll to select candidates for a 2020 legislative council election.

Of these, 47 were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” under a national security law imposed by Beijing.

Wong’s lawyer, Marco Li, told the court that while his client should be considered an active participant in the conspiracy, he had no involvement in organising or assisting in the primary election.

In view of Wong’s early plea of guilty, Li urged a reduction of a third in his sentence, which could range from three years to 10 for active participants in the conspiracy, but life for those judged to be “principal offenders”.

“He very much hopes that after all these offenses, he could part with his past history and be able to reform himself after this particular offense,” Li added.

Seated in a corner of the dock, Wong was separated from the other defendants by three prison guards. Before the hearing began, he had nodded and waved to friends and supporters.

The marathon case has prompted criticism from countries such as Australia, Britain, and the United States, which say national security laws have been used to curb freedoms guaranteed when Britain handed the Asian financial hub back to China in 1997.

The governments of China and Hong Kong say the law is necessary and has brought stability, however.

The mitigation hearings began a month after 14 activists were found guilty, with two acquittals, in May. They had pleaded not guilty. Wong and 30 others had pleaded guilty, and four of them have become prosecution witnesses.

Wong is among the third batch of the convicted 45 making mitigation pleas for a lighter sentence. He did not himself write a mitigation letter, but his mother, classmates in church and former school teachers wrote on his behalf.

A candidate who won the unofficial primary poll, Wong was disqualified from running in the 2020 election, which the government postponed on the grounds of COVID-19 pandemic.

An admitted summary of facts, Wong told the election forum that he lobbied internationally, in Britain, the United States and the United Nations since 2016, for measures such as the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed in 2019.

His lawyer said 2016 was well before the national security law and his appeal for such foreign support was not specific to the current conspiracy, forming instead part of the broader democracy movement.

Wong and most of the activists have been denied bail and remanded in custody for more than three years in what critics say has been a departure from common law traditions.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


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