Hong Kong activist faints in court

Jessie Pang and James PomfretAAP
About 1000 protesters in central Hong Kong have defied rules limiting group gatherings to four.
Camera IconAbout 1000 protesters in central Hong Kong have defied rules limiting group gatherings to four.

A Hong Kong court has adjourned early after a democracy activist fainted during a marathon hearing of 47 people charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, as authorities intensify a crackdown on the opposition.

Following over 12 hours of submissions from defence lawyers on bail applications that ran deep into the night, democrat and district councillor Clarisse Yeung fainted in the courtroom early on Tuesday and had to be sent to hospital by ambulance.

Her condition was not immediately known.

Magistrate Victor So adjourned proceedings, with around half the defendants' applications still to be heard.

On Monday, about 1000 people defied rules limiting group gatherings to four to curb the spread of coronavirus, in the biggest protest this year.

Protest slogans rang out throughout the day against the arrest of the 47 activists before crowds thinned in the evening.

The activists are accused of organising an unofficial primary poll last July aimed at selecting the strongest candidates for a legislative council election the government later postponed, citing coronavirus.

Authorities said the informal poll was part of a plan to "overthrow" the government, further raising alarm that Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian turn since Beijing imposed a national security law last June.

"This is the most ridiculous arrest in the history of Hong Kong," said Herbert Chow, 57, who was queuing outside the court and wearing a face mask.

"But I have confidence in our judicial system to restore justice. It's the last line of defence."

Many were dressed in black, the colour associated with the 2019 anti-government protests, while some chanted: "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" and "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," popular slogans during the unrest.

Others raised the three-finger salute that has become the symbol of protest against authoritarian rule in Myanmar.

The activists - 39 men and eight women, ages 23-64 - were charged on Sunday under the national security law, which punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Several foreign diplomats also queued to attend the hearing.

Jonathan Williams, a diplomat at the UK consulate in the city, said: "It's clear that the use of the national security law is going much broader than the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities promised."

He added, however, that the UK government had "full faith in the independent judiciary," to deal with the defendants fairly and impartially without political pressure.

As crowds swelled outside the court building, some held up large yellow banners that said: "Release all political prisoners now."

Authorities have said campaigning to win a majority in Hong Kong's 70-seat Legislative Council, with the purpose of blocking government proposals to ramp up pressure for democratic reforms, could be seen as subversive.

Among those charged were the organiser of the primary election and former law professor Benny Tai, as well as prominent activists Lester Shum, Joshua Wong and Owen Chow.

The charges are the latest blow to the city's pro-democracy movement.

Since the security legislation was imposed on the city last June, some elected legislators have been disqualified, scores of activists arrested and others have fled overseas.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails