A Hong Kong court has found seven prominent pro-democracy figures including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, and 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee for their involvement in anti-China protests in August 2019.
“I have found after trial the prosecution able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that all of the defendants together organised what amounted to an unauthorised assembly,” said the district court judge Amanda Woodcock, in her judgement.
Although Hong Kong’s laws guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, the judge said: “Restrictions are imposed, including those for preserving public safety and public order, and protecting the rights of others.”
They were also found guilty of knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly.
The court will pronounce the sentence on 16 April and it is expected that jail terms of 12-18 months will be handed down although the maximum possible sentence is five years. The judge, however, rejected a request to keep them in custody and granted bail pending sentencing.
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Mr Lee is known for helping in the launch of the city’s largest opposition democratic party in the 1990s and is often called the former British colony’s “father of democracy.” He was accused of taking part in an unauthorised assembly on 18 August 2019.
While Mr Lai, the media tycoon, has been an outspoken pro-democracy voice in the city and a vocal critic of China. He had even met the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seeking support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement – a meeting which prompted Beijing to call him a “traitor”.
The other defendants included prominent barrister Margaret Ng, 73; and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Albert Ho, 69; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66.
While entering the court Leung Kwok-hung shouted “Peaceful assembly is not a crime.”
They spoke to the media outside the court after the hearing ended. A small group of supporters had gathered outside the court building with banners such as the one that read “Oppose Political Persecution.”
Minky Worden, who is the director of global initiatives at the Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “Another dark day for #HongKong, as court system weaponised to convict venerable longtime legislators.”
Hong Kong, the former British Colony, was handed back to China in 1997 on the promise that its relative autonomy would be maintained but it has eroded in the recent years with Beijing introducing a strict national security law with emphasis on ensuring the loyalty of the city’s government, leaders and citizens to China.
Hong Kong has witnessed pro-democracy protests since 2019, but under intense crackdown from Beijing the movement has faltered with most of the activists either arrested and imprisoned or forced into exile.
The crackdown has continued despite severe objections from western countries including the UK and the US.
Additional reporting by agencies
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