The trial of the NSL47, a group of 47 pro-democracy leaders prosecuted by the Hong Kong government for their participation in 2020’s Legislative Council primaries, began on February 6, 2023. The defendants represent a diverse cross-section of media figures, academics, and opposition politicians, including high-profile figures such as activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, legal scholar Benny Tai, journalist Gwyneth Ho, and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai.
Thus far, the trial of the NSL47 has been marked by clear breaches of the defendants’ right to due process. The Hong Kong government has imprisoned most of the NSL47 defendants since 2021 as they await trial, and none of the defendants will be tried before a jury. The Hong Kong government has also interfered significantly in the proceedings, handpicking judges for the trial.
Of the 47 defendants, 31 have pleaded guilty, with four defendants agreeing to testify for the prosecution. The remaining 16 face sentences of up to life imprisonment if convicted.
The open breach of the NSL47 defendants’ due process rights indicates the degree to which Hong Kong’s previously quasi-independent legal system continues to fall under the influence of the Hong Kong government. The Hong Kong government’s interference in the trial, including by denying the defendants the right to face a jury and by selecting the judges who will preside, warrants a stronger examination of Hong Kong’s legal system by international authorities—perhaps including the sanctioning of judges who participate in sham trials such as the proceedings surrounding the NSL47 prosecutions.
Additionally, the underlying national security charges for all 47 defendants demonstrate the Hong Kong government’s ruthless approach towards criminalizing its opposition and stripping Hong Kongers of their basic rights to political participation. With 31 of the NSL47 pleading guilty, HKDC can now report that 104 pro-democracy leaders have been convicted of 153 charges. This adds to the 1,337 political prisoners who are currently imprisoned in Hong Kong, documented in HKDC’s Political Prisoners Database.