Hong Kong court lifts reporting restriction on national security case

HONG KONG, Aug 17 (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Wednesday lifted a reporting restriction on a landmark national security case involving a now disbanded group that held candlelight vigils on the anniversary of the crackdown from Tiananmen Square.

The decision follows a decision by High Court Judge Alex Lee earlier this month overturning a decision by lower court magistrate Peter Law who had blocked applications for permission to open report on pre-trial proceedings – known as the name of committal hearings.

The lifting of reporting restrictions was seen as a breakthrough by some activists. This is the first time the report will be allowed for preliminary hearings for a national security case in Hong Kong.

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The ban was lifted following a legal challenge by one of the defendants; Chow Hang-tung, 37, who had argued that full reporting should be allowed in the interest of “open justice”.

In lifting the restriction, Law rejected the prosecutor’s arguments, including that public debate of the reports could affect the course of justice.

“Hong Kong is a civilized place…with the rule of law,” he said. “This public debate will not affect the judge’s decision.”

Law said some limitations may be imposed on future hearings.

The case involves a group called the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and three of its former leaders: Lee Cheuk-yan, 65, Chow Hang-tung, 37, and Albert Ho, 70, who have been charged with incitement to subvert state power under a national security law imposed by China.

Since the three men were arrested and charged last September, they have been repeatedly denied bail and only basic details from many hearings have been reported.

Law previously refused to lift the ban, saying the reporting could put “mental pressure” on witnesses. Lee disputed this, saying Law “erred” in his decision and that reporting should be allowed in the interest of “open justice”.

In lifting the report block, Law rejected the prosecutor’s arguments that some of the hearings should still be subject to closed-door restrictions, including a preliminary inquiry.

The preliminary inquiry, at which prosecutors say they will present 16 boxes of documents and 200 hours of video footage dating back to 1989, will decide whether the case should go to a full trial in the High Court.

The alliance dissolved last September after its leaders were arrested and its assets were frozen.

Chow is in jail for two cases of unauthorized gathering related to candlelight vigils in 2020 and 2021 on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. She also faces a separate national security charge related to a refusal to submit alliance information to the police.

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Editing by Robert Birsel

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