Hong Kong has found 14 pro-democracy activists guilty of subversion in the largest use yet of a China-imposed National Security Law.

They included former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Helena Wong, journalist-turned-campaigner Gwyneth Ho, and ordinary Hong Kongers who joined the mass protests of 2019 such as nurse Winnie Yu.

They were among the 47 activists charged with trying to “overthrow” the government by organising an unofficial primary in 2020 to pick candidates who can run for office.

They would have “[created] a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong” if they had indeed been elected to the legislature, the court ruled on Thursday.

Rights groups and several Western countries have condemned the verdict, repeating concerns that the prosecutions were “politically motivated”.

“The conviction… marks a further deterioration of fundamental freedoms and democratic participation in Hong Kong,” said EU foreign affairs spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali.

Outside the court house, Vanessa Chan, the wife of Leung Kwok-hung, was arrested along with three other activists for trying to stage a protest, according to police sources.

Ms Chan is now the chairperson of the League of Social Democrats, one of the very few pro-democracy political groups that still exist in Hong Kong

An official said they had been engaged in “disorderly conduct”.

Australia had “expressed our strong objections to the Hong Kong authorities on the continuing broad application of national security legislation to arrest and pressure pro-democracy figures, opposition groups, media, trade unions and civil society,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

One of the convicted campaigners Gordon Ng is an Australian citizen.

On Thursday, three High Court judges Andrew Chan, Alex Lee, and Johnny Chan agreed with the prosecutors’ argument that had the pro-democracy candidates been elected they would have tried to “veto or refuse to pass any budgets” introduced by the Hong Kong government.

This and other actions, the court said, would have led to “serious interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the (Hong Kong) government”.

As evidence, the court cited letters and campaign materials found at the defendants’ homes and on their devices when they were arrested more than three years ago.

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