Hong Kong activist charged with foreign collusion under national security law

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HONG KONG, March 24 (Reuters) - Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li was charged on Wednesday with "conspiracy to commit collusion" with a foreign country to endanger national security, two days after he was released from a Chinese prison.

At the city's West Kowloon Court, the prosecutor told the judge that Li, who had been detained by Chinese authorities after trying to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by boat with 11 others last August, would also be charged with two other offences including possession of ammunition without a licence.

The ammunition in question included used tear gas canisters.

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Under the city's China-imposed national security law, defendants could face up to life in prison if convicted.

According to a charge sheet seen by Reuters, Li, 30, was alleged to have "conspired together" with media tycoon and prominent China critic Jimmy Lai, U.S. citizen Mark Simon and other persons, to request foreign sanctions and to "engage in other hostile activities" against Hong Kong and China.

The charge sheet said the alleged offences took place between July 2020 and February 2021. Li was held in custody in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for most of this period.

He was arrested under the national security law on Aug. 10 last year and the boat he was travelling in with 11 others was intercepted by mainland authorities on Aug. 23.

Li didn't appear in person in court as he was under a Covid-related quarantine following his return to Hong Kong.

The second charge involved conspiring with others, including Lai, to attempt to flee Hong Kong on a boat that was intercepted by the Chinese coastguard.

Chief magistrate Victor So adjourned his case to March 31.

Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of autonomy and freedoms not allowed in China.

Since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last June, critics say the city has come under tight Chinese control with mass arrests of democracy campaigners, curbs on protests and free speech. Also, the city's electoral system is being overhauled, to ensure all candidates are loyal to Beijing.

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Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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