HONG KONG — Seven of Hong Kong’s main veteran pro-democracy advocates had been discovered responsible on Thursday of unauthorized meeting, as Beijing’s marketing campaign to quash town’s opposition ensnared a few of its most senior and well-recognized figures.
Martin Lee, an 82-year-old barrister often called the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, 73, a media tycoon and founding father of the staunchly pro-democracy Apple Day by day newspaper, and Margaret Ng, 73, a revered barrister and columnist, together with 4 others, had been convicted of collaborating and organizing an unauthorized march in 2019.
Earlier than the listening to, a few of the defendants rallied exterior the court docket, holding a banner that learn, “Oppose Political Persecution; Protest Political Suppression.” Contained in the courtroom, supporters seated within the gallery cheered them on, shouting: “Sustain your spirits!”
The prosecution of veteran pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong has been held up by their supporters as a extreme assault on the liberty of speech and different civil liberties that after had been core to town’s id.
Hong Kong’s authorities have overseen an expansive crackdown on the pro-democracy motion because the metropolis was engulfed by antigovernment protests in 2019. Greater than 2,400 folks have been charged because the authorities sought to quash the motion that had posed the best problem to Beijing’s rule in many years.
Beijing has sought to depict a number of of the opposition figures as subversive parts working with hostile international forces to undermine Chinese language sovereignty. Critics of this view say the ruling Communist Celebration is just deflecting the true democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong folks.
Mr. Lee, Mr. Lai and Albert Ho have been denounced in Chinese state media as being a part of a “Gang of 4” who stirred unrest in 2019, an accusation at odds with the largely leaderless motion within the streets.
Human rights advocates had been sharply crucial of the convictions, labeling them as a part of an effort to undermine the long-running marketing campaign for democracy in Hong Kong.
“This trial was additionally concerning the lengthy historical past, legacy and contributions of the elder statesmen and ladies of the motion,” stated Samuel Chu, the managing director of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council. “It’s about discrediting their lifetime contributions to Hong Kong, to the motion, to staff, to grass-roots, to people and their professions.”
The case centered on a rally on August 18, 2019 when lots of of hundreds of individuals gathered in an antigovernment protest.
That gathering had obtained police approval. However what adopted didn’t. The defendants had been accused of main protesters out of Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island, starting a march that led towards the core enterprise district. Whereas there was no violence and minimal dysfunction, prosecutors argued that the march violated Hong Kong’s public order ordinance.
Their attorneys argued that main protesters out of the park, which had crammed with many extra folks than it might deal with, was vital for public security. In addition they stated that imprisoning them over a peaceable march was a heavy-handed software of the regulation.
“After all we’re very disenchanted with the decision as a result of what we’ve finished is just exercising our constitutional proper,” one defendant, the labor chief Lee Cheuk-yan, stated after the listening to. “However it’s a badge of honor for us that we’re convicted for strolling along with the folks of Hong Kong for democracy and freedom.”
The protests that summer season had been targeted at first on a proposal to permit extraditions to mainland China however expanded to incorporate calls for for direct elections and an investigation into using drive by police.
The prosecution of town’s pro-democracy leaders over a peaceable protest has drawn a world outcry. David Perry, a outstanding British barrister who was employed to guide the prosecution, dropped the case after coming underneath sharp criticism at residence. Dominic Raab, the British international secretary, had said Mr. Perry was “fairly mercenary” and was giving the Chinese language authorities a public relations win.
The State Division, in an annual report on Hong Kong issued Wednesday, stated that the Hong Kong authorities “didn’t respect” the appropriate to free meeting supplied underneath native regulation, and that by imposing a nationwide safety regulation final yr, China had “dramatically undermined rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”
The trial took 20 days, twice so long as had been scheduled. The defendants, who additionally embody the previous lawmakers Cyd Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, resist 5 years in jail. Sentences will likely be handed down on April 16.
One other former lawmaker, Au Nok-hin, 33, had beforehand pleaded responsible to each fees, whereas Leung Yiu-chung, 67, had pleaded responsible to a single cost of collaborating within the protest.
The decision might set expectations for a number of trials on comparable fees of unlawful protests set to happen this yr.
As well as, 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists have been charged with subversion underneath the brand new safety regulation for collaborating in an election main that prosecutors say was a part of a plan to subvert the federal government.
Mr. Lai, the media tycoon, has been charged in a separate nationwide safety case for allegedly lobbying for American sanctions in opposition to Hong Kong and Chinese language officers.