A Hong Kong court has convicted 14 pro-democracy activists under a law imposed by Beijing that has all but wiped out public dissent.

Those who were found guilty included former politicians Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan, but the three judges approved by the government to oversee the case acquitted two former district councillors Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau.

The 16 defendants were among 47 democracy advocates prosecuted in 2021 for their involvement in an unofficial primary election.

Hong Kong Security Law Verdict
Police officers stand guard outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong (Chan Long Hei/AP)

Prosecutors had accused them of attempting to paralyse Hong Kong’s government and topple the city’s leader by securing the legislative majority necessary to indiscriminately veto budgets.

Mitigation hearings will be scheduled to determine the sentences of those convicted who face up to life in prison.

When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Beijing promised to retain the city’s Western-style civil liberties for 50 years.

But since the introduction of the 2020 law, Hong Kong authorities have severely limited free speech and assembly under the rubric of maintaining national security. Many activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile. Dozens of civil society groups disbanded.

Legal scholar Benny Tai and former student leader Joshua Wong were among 31 of the democracy advocates who pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit subversion. They have a better chance at shorter jail terms and will be sentenced at a later date.