Hong Kong activist Gwyneth Ho rejects ‘closed-door hearing’, cancels bail attempt

A Hong Kong activist withdrew her application for bail on Wednesday after the court decided against allowing the media to report details of her hearing.

Gwyneth Ho, who is among 47 activists and former lawmakers charged under Hong Kong’s national security law, told the High Court that she would not go ahead with her application unless it lifted the reporting restrictions.

Judge Esther Toh, a designated national security jurist, refused to waive the reporting ban and adjourned the hearing after less than 10 minutes. The defendant was returned to custody and later released a message via her lawyer.

“Bail is of course important, but it is meaningless to have a process that is unfair and not open to the public,” Ho said, lamenting how the public has got used to bail hearings under the national security law being held “behind closed doors”.

She was represented by barrister Douglas Kwok after her original choice of lawyer, Chow Hang-tung, was arrested on Wednesday morning in a separate national security case. Chow was reportedly accused of not cooperating with a police investigation into the organisers of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil for Tiananmen Square victims.

Before her arrest, Chow had submitted legal arguments on Ho’s behalf, and some of the points were published on Ho’s Facebook page before the Wednesday hearing.

“To avoid the [national security law] being abused to effectively impose arbitrary pre-trial detention, the court must be careful to scrutinise any order for pre-trial detention,” Chow wrote, urging judges to demand concrete allegations against the defendant and evaluate whether a detention order would affect fundamental rights.

Ho is a former journalist who has been held in custody since early March along with 34 of the 47 co-defendants in the case. They are charged with conspiracy to commit subversion for their roles in an informal primary poll held by the pro-democracy camp in July last year. The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

On Tuesday, Ho said she would ask the court to lift the ban on media coverage of the bail hearing. Under the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, the media can publish only basic information about bail proceedings, such as the defendant’s name, the court’s decision and bail conditions.

“After the defendants under the national security law were arrested and remanded in custody, the reporting restrictions on bail hearings have turned the process into a ‘black box’, and has created widespread fears in society,” she wrote in a message from detention.

Separately, former lawmaker Raymond Chan, who is also a co-defendant in the subversion case, is scheduled to apply to the High Court for bail on September 16. Some of the defendants have made repeated attempts to be released from detention and only 13 have succeeded so far.

The group of 47 will appear in West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on September 23 for committal proceedings, where the magistrate will decide if the high-profile trial will be conducted at the High Court. No trial date has yet been set.

By Holmes Chan