Activist Andy Li Yu-hin made his first court appearance to face national security and other criminal charges on Wednesday, two weeks after he was sent back to Hong Kong from mainland China where he served a jail term for illegally crossing the border while attempting to flee to Taiwan.
The 30-year-old fugitive was remanded in custody after he was brought to West Kowloon Court under tight security, escorted by a fleet of police motorcycles and guarded by nearly 200 officers, many of them armed with submachine guns and shotguns.
In addition to charges of conspiracy to assist offenders stemming from his attempt to flee the city by boat with 11 others in August, he is accused of conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces under the national security law and possession of ammunition without a licence.
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Clad in a white shirt and holding a stack of documents to his chest, Li occasionally looked from the dock to the full public gallery, with a spectator waving to him at one point.
His only statement was affirming that he understood the charges after they were read out, and he did not seek bail or ask to return to court in eight days to review that decision.
Prosecutor Vincent Lee informed the court the Department of Justice had chosen the High Court as the venue for the trial.
Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak, one of a handful of jurists selected by the city’s leader to handle national security cases, adjourned the hearing to May 18 when Li will appear before the same court one last time to formalise the transfer of his trial.
Law enforcement sources said the heightened security arrangement was needed as the defendant was considered a “high-risk person in custody”. “We take no chances,” one insider said.
Li was among six people arrested on August 10 for allegedly colluding with foreign forces under the security law. The others arrested included media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and activist Agnes Chow Ting, both of whom were already behind bars for separate offences.
Roughly two weeks later, he joined 11 other activists in fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat under the cover of night only to be intercepted by the Chinese coastguard. Eight of them returned to Hong Kong last month after serving seven months’ jail in Shenzhen for the illegal crossing. Two others were given longer sentences for organising the crime, while the two underage activists in the group were not charged.
Li was taken into custody upon his return and charged under the national security law at West Kowloon Court on March 24, accused of conspiring with others to lobby foreign countries for sanctions or a blockade, or engage in other hostile activities, against Hong Kong or the mainland.
He was also charged with conspiracy to assist offenders over the escape attempt and for what prosecutors said was an illegal collection of spent ammunition – comprising 232 tear gas rounds, seven foam rounds and 38 rubber bullets – found at a Sha Tin flat on the day of his arrest.
Li did not attend court on that occasion as he was still in quarantine, and he was not represented by a lawyer. He was also absent at a second hearing last week, where he was represented by barrister Lawrence Law Tat-hung, who was not part of the legal team assisting him before his escape attempt.
Law, who took up the case without the family’s knowledge, refused to reveal further information about Li. His firm Olympia Chambers was forced to issue a statement last week rejecting suggestions he had been appointed by the authorities.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Li was also represented by Trevor Chan Tin-lup from Au-Yeung, Chan & Ho Solicitors.
Asked why details about his client’s conditions had not been forthcoming, Chan said it was Li’s “will that those matters should not be disclosed”.
He gave no reason for his client’s detention at the Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre. He said Li was in the process of applying legal aid, but did not reveal who was paying the current legal fees.
Additional reporting by Christy Leung
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