A Hong Kong court found seven prominent pro-democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72 and 82-year-old attorney Martin Lee, who were involved in protests against China in August 2019.
“After the trial, I found that the prosecution can prove beyond any doubt that all the defendants together organized an unauthorized meeting,” said District Court judge Amanda Woodcock in her verdict.
Although Hong Kong laws guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, the judge said, “Restrictions are imposed, including those aimed at maintaining public safety and order and protecting the rights of others.”
You were also found guilty of knowingly attending an unauthorized meeting.
The court will pronounce the sentence on April 16, and it is expected that prison sentences of 12 to 18 months will be imposed, although the maximum possible sentence is five years. However, the judge denied a request for detention and granted bail pending conviction.
Known for helping found the city’s largest democratic opposition party in the 1990s, Mr. Lee is often referred to as the “father of democracy” of the former British colony. He was charged with attending an unauthorized meeting on August 18, 2019.
While Mr. Lai, the media tycoon, was an outspoken pro-democracy voice in the city and a vocal critic of China. He even met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong – a meeting that led Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
Other defendants included prominent lawyer Margaret Ng, 73; and veteran Democrat Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Albert Ho, 69; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66.
When Leung Kwok-hung entered the court, he shouted, “Peaceful gathering is not a crime.”
They spoke to the media after the court hearing was over. A small group of supporters had gathered in front of the courthouse with banners such as the one reading “Opposition to Political Persecution”.
Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, tweeted, “Another dark day for #HongKong as the court system was used to convict venerable longtime lawmakers.”
Hong Kong, the former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 with a promise that its relative autonomy would be preserved. However, it has waned in recent years when Beijing introduced a tough national security law that emphasized the loyalty of the city to government, leaders and citizens to China.
There have been anti-democracy protests in Hong Kong since 2019, but crackdown on Beijing has stalled the movement as most activists have either been arrested and imprisoned or forced into exile.
The move continued despite serious objections from Western countries, including the UK and the US.
Additional reporting by agencies