HONG KONG - Two men, one caught while trying to flee to Taiwan, have pleaded guilty to charges of foreign collusion under the national security law - the first such pleas since the law was imposed in June last year.
Activist Andy Li, 30, and legal assistant Chan Tsz Wah, 29, admitted in a High Court hearing on Thursday (Aug 19) that they were part of a conspiracy to breach national security under instructions from Apple Daily founder and tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, between July 2020 and February 2021.
The two men admitted to organising global campaigns that called on foreign governments to sanction Chinese officials.
The prosecution said Li had organised crowdfunding, as well as engaged in international lobbying calling on countries to condemn China, the Hong Kong government and the city's police.
Li also asked for sanctions to be imposed on China and the Hong Kong government under instructions from Lai and his right hand man Mark Simon. The instructions were passed on by Chan, the prosecution said.
The United States subsequently sanctioned dozens of mainland and Hong Kong officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Security chief Chris Tang and director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Xia Baolong, for what it said amounted to a crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy and freedoms.
On Thursday, the court heard Li's apology, as he said: "I agree with the facts and I would like to say sorry."
He was one of 12 Hong Kongers caught by the Guangdong coast guard in August last year as they tried to flee the city by speedboat.
He then served a seven-month sentence on the mainland before being brought to Hong Kong in March.
The pair face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
So far, more than 130 individuals including activists and former lawmakers have been arrested under the security law, which criminalises subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
The now-defunct tabloid Apple Daily's then editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, and publisher, Cheung Kim Hung, are accused of conspiring with Lai and others to get foreign forces to impose sanctions or a blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.
Lai, who is now in remand for involvement in illegal protests, faces other national security charges linked to collusion with foreign powers.
Last month, the court sentenced former waiter Tong Ying Kit to nine years' jail in the city's first national security trial. He was convicted of incitement to secession and engaging in terrorist activities for driving a motorcycle into a group of police while carrying a protest banner.
Separately on Thursday, the police laid charges on four student union members of the University of Hong Kong for advocating terrorism - the first time this specific offence under the security law has been applied.
The four, aged 18 to 20, each face one count.
They were part of more than 30 students who participated in a July 7 tribute to "express deep sadness" and to "appreciate his sacrifice to Hong Kong" the death of 50-year-old Leung Kin Fai, who stabbed a police officer from behind before stabbing himself.