Hong Kong activist Andy Li appeared in court on Wednesday charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign powers” under a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as charges linked to the 2019 protest movement.
In his first public appearance since being handed back to the Hong Kong authorities on March 22 following a seven-month jail term for “illegally crossing a border,” Li seemed in good spirits, clad in a white shirt and black-rimmed glasses, documents in hand.
Li entered no plea, nor bail application, and was remanded in custody pending trial, with the next court appearance set for May 18.
He was represented by barrister Lawrence Law, whose appointment sparked widespread media speculation that he was foisted on Li by the authorities, in a manner similar to methods used by police in mainland China.
But Trevor Chan, of the firm Au Yeung, Chan & Ho, denied the firm had been “assigned” the case, saying only that Li had asked for such details not to be made public.
“Absolutely not,” Chan said, when asked if he was a government-appointed lawyer.
Li’s sister Beatrice Li has said her brother’s defense team wasn’t hired by the family.
Li was held incommunicado for many days after his return to Hong Kong, and taken to the maximum-security Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre. His family received a message from him earlier this week.
Tight security at court
Security was extremely tight outside the courtroom, with ranks of police motorcycles and other vehicles escorting the prison van bringing Li to court.
The first charge against Li alleges that, between July 1, 2020 and Feb. 15 2021, Li conspired with pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, his former assistant and U.S. national Mark Simon, and others, to “request foreign sanctions” and to “engage in other hostile activities.”
Li was held in custody in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for most of the period covered by the charges.
Another charge relates to Li’s flight — along with 11 other activists — by speedboat on Aug. 23, 2020, while a third accuses him of being in possession of “explosives,” namely, used tear-gas canisters and other spent police ammunition.
Protesters sometimes gathered spent ammunition to keep as evidence of police violence against them during the 2019 movement, which began as a mass public response to plans to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China.
‘We have done no wrong’
Jimmy Lai was also in court on separate charges on Wednesday, pleading guilty alongside former pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan and former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum to “taking part in an illegal assembly” on Aug. 31, 2019, at the height of the protest movement.
Lee and Yeung were released on bail, while Lai — who also faces charges under the national security law — was remanded in custody pending trial.
“Today we plead guilty to the charges, but we have done no wrong,” Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters outside the court. “This was an act of civil disobedience.”
“We were affirming … that we have the right to come out to march,” he said.
Yeung said the Public Order Ordinance (POO), which is frequently used to bring criminal charges against peaceful, political protesters, shouldn’t have applied on Aug. 31, 2019, as the police had issued a notice of no objection to the planned rally.
He cited Article 17 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and Article 27 of the city’s Basic Law, which state that the residents of Hong Kong enjoy the right to freedom of speech, press and association, and of demonstration.
Yeung said the imposition of the national security law and recent changes to Hong Kong’s political system by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had abolished democracy in the city.
Reported by Lau Siu Fung and Fong Tak Ho for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.