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Hong Kong convicts 14 pro-democracy activists in largest national security case

Protesters burn a sign celebrating the 70th anniversary of China during an anti-government rally in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2019. On Thursday, a court in Hong Kong convicted 14 pro-democracy protesters on sedition charges. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
Protesters burn a sign celebrating the 70th anniversary of China during an anti-government rally in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2019. On Thursday, a court in Hong Kong convicted 14 pro-democracy protesters on sedition charges. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

May 30 (UPI) -- Fourteen Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrators were convicted Thursday of conspiring to subvert the state under a controversial national security law over holding unofficial primary elections.

The ruling from the Beijing-backed court is expected to further fray relations between China and the West, with many nations having repeatedly condemned the former British colony's precipitous slide from democracy.

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Forty-seven politicians, activists and demonstrators were accused of sedition in connection to the unofficial primary elections they held in 2020, with 31 of them pleading guilty. Of the remaining 16 defendants, 14 were found guilty Thursday while two were acquitted.

They now face lengthy prisons sentences up to life behind bars.

According to a press release from the court, the defendants were accused of participating in a scheme to win a majority in Hong Kong's Legislature Council in order to veto laws, such as the budget, in order to force the city's chief executive to resign.

The court asserts that if successful, the scheme would "necessarily amount to or involve the commission by the successful candidates of a serious interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the government of the HKSAR."

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HKSAR are the initials for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the city's official name.

The dozens of demonstrators were charged under a draconian national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong in early summer 2020. That law was instituted following mass pro-democracy protests that rocked the city and brought it to a standstill a year prior.

The dozens of defendants were arrested in early January 2021 sweep. The majority had participated in unofficial primary elections to ensure they had the strongest candidates possible in order to win a majority in the Legislative Council.

The ruling on Thursday comes in the largest case yet brought under the controversial national security law.

Their arrests also came amid a silencing of opposition in the Hong Kong.

"All Hong Kong people -- and their representatives and activists convicted today -- wanted was a chance to freely elect their government," Maya Wang, interim China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"Democracy is not a crime, regardless of what the Chinese government and is handpicked Hong Kong court may say."

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