One of four people accused of trespassing at the People's Liberation Army headquarters at Admiralty in December has asked to halt his trial permanently, citing possible political pressure on the courts after Beijing expressed concern over the alleged intrusion.
Billy Chiu Hin-chung applied to Eastern Court yesterday for a permanent stay of proceedings.
"Since senior officials on the mainland and state media have demanded severe punishment [for us], I have reason to suspect the court may be under political pressure," he said.
Chiu, 29, and three others - Dickson Cheung Hon-yin, 40, Tse Wing-man, 29, and a 15-year-old who cannot be named because he is under 16 - were arrested on January 1 over the Boxing Day intrusion.
Hours later, state media reported that Beijing had expressed "grave concern" about the break-in.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council was quoted as saying the PLA barracks were protected by law and that those who disregarded the law and broke into the premises should be punished.
All the defendants had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charge of entering a closed area without a permit.
Cheung, Tse and the teenager had given statements to police but doubted the relevance of some of the questions they were asked, their defence lawyer Norton Pang told the court.
The defendants did not know if they had entered the barracks because there was no clear sign indicating the boundary, Pang said. They insisted that even if they had stepped within its boundary, they had the right to do so and it was done as a gesture, the lawyer said.
The defence disputed whether setting foot beyond the barracks' front gate meant entering the restricted area.
The prosecution told the court that it would summon at least 14 witnesses. It also hoped to present as evidence a video from Apple Daily recording the incident, as video footage was more objective than the recollections of "two or three PLA soldiers" and the defendants.
Magistrate So Wai-tak adjourned the case to May 12 for another pre-trial review. The trial is expected to begin on May 19.