National security charges may carry possible sentences of life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the cases heard by the courts. The high bail threshold means most of those charged are likely to spend months, if not years, in jail before being tried.
The largest round of national security arrests came in January, when 55 politicians and pro-democracy activists were arrested, many of them in early morning raids. They had organized or participated in an informal primary election in July in which more than 600,000 people chose pro-democracy candidates to run in the city’s legislative elections two months later. This election was postponed by the Hong Kong government shortly after the primary and is now scheduled for December 19, when new electoral restrictions will be in place.
Of the 55 people arrested, 47 were formally charged in February with conspiracy to commit acts of subversion, a violation of security law. Prosecutors said the pro-democracy bloc planned to win a majority in the legislature and then “indiscriminately” veto the government’s budget in order to force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. Thirty-six of the 47 defendants were denied bail during four days of marathon hearings in which several were hospitalized from exhaustion.
Those charged cover a broad political spectrum, from the avowed radical Mr. Leung to moderate Democrats like lawyer Alvin Yeung. Their unifying conviction was a desire for universal suffrage in a city where democracy has long been hampered.
Other national security arrests included four young activists who were former members of an independence group; Mr. Lai, his two sons and several employees of his company, Next Digital; and 11 people suspected of aiding a group of activists who tried to flee to Taiwan by boat last year as they faced charges related to the 2019 protests.