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Hong Kong court edges closer to sentencing democracy activists involved in unofficial primary

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court began mitigation hearings for prominent pro-democracy activists who were convicted under a national security law and now face up to life in prison.

The activists were among 47 democracy advocates who were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in 2021 for their involvement in an unofficial primary, in the biggest case brought under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

They were accused of attempting to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and topple the city’s leader by securing a legislative majority and using it to block city budgets.

Forty-five of the defendants either pled guilty or were convicted by a three-judge panel whose membership was approved by the government. The judges said their plans to effect change through the election would have undermined the government’s authority and created a constitutional crisis, in a verdict that critics said raised doubt about judicial independence.

The first batch of defendants to plead for lenient sentences contains legal scholar Benny Tai and activists Au Nok-hin, Andrew Chiu, Ben Chung and Gordon Ng. The mitigation hearings are expected to continue until early August.

Barrister Stewart Wong, representing Tai, told the judges that his client should be jailed for two years. He’s expected to continue laying out his argument Tuesday on.

Hours before the hearing began, dozens of people were queueing up outside the court building tightly guarded by police. Some of them, including retiree William Wong, arrived at about 6 p.m. on Monday despite summer heat.

Wong said he voted in the primary and shared the defendants’ hopes for democracy.

“It’s a normal election. Why do people have to be jailed for this? I can’t accept this,” he said.

Tai, a