Hong Kong court puts off release of pro-democracy activists

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HONG KONG (AP) – A group of 11 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists accused of subversion will stay in jail for at least another five days while judges consider whether to release them on bail, a court said Saturday.

The group, which includes three former legislators, will have hearings Thursday and on March 13, the High Court said. A court agreed this week to release them but prosecutors appealed the decision.

They are among 47 people who were charged under a national security law imposed on the Chinese territory last year by the ruling Communist Party after pro-democracy protests.

They were arrested after opposition groups held an unofficial vote last year to pick candidates for elections to the territory’s Legislative Council.

Some activists planned, if elected, to vote down major bills in an attempt to force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign.

The national security law was imposed following months of rallies that began over a proposed China extradition law and expanded to include demands for greater democracy.

The law prompted complaints Beijing is undermining the “high degree of autonomy” promised when the former British colony returned to China in 1997, and hurting its status as a business center.

People convicted of subversion or other offenses under the law can face penalties of up to life in prison.

Hong Kong traditionally grants bail for non-violent offenses but the new law says bail cannot be granted unless a judge believes the defendant “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

On Friday, four of the 47 people charged were released on bail after prosecutors dropped a challenge to the decision.

The group due to appear in court Thursday includes former legislators Helena Wong, Jeremy Tam and Kwok Ka-ki.

The next hearing for the 47 defendants is May 31.

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