Published: Fri, April 02, 2021
Tech | By

Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai among seven activists found guilty over protests

Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai among seven activists found guilty over protests

Former lawmaker Cyd Ho (left) and pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan (center) gesture a protest slogan, "Five demands, not one less", as they leave West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on Thursday after being found guilty of organizing an unauthorized assembly.

Media entrepreneur Lai was arrested in August after some 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid.

Speaking ahead of the court session, one of the defendants, Lee Cheuk Yan, who heads a pro-democracy group, said it may be painful to see freedom and democracy backslide.

Taking part in an unlawful assembly or a riot in Hong Kong can result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years' imprisonment for serious offences. Leung is a former member of the Legislative Council.

© Photograph: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images Seven Hong Kong democracy figures have been found guilty over a 2019 protest in Victoria Park.

Two others, former pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, pleaded guilty in February. They must all relinquish their travel documents.

During the trial, defense lawyers argued that freedom of assembly is a constitutional right in Hong Kong.

The US said on Wednesday that Hong Kong does not warrant preferential treatment under the Hong Kong Policy Act, a law that had allowed Washington to maintain a special relationship with the city.

Beijing said the law would target "sedition" and bring stability.

Lai is among those who remains jailed on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city's affairs, a new crime under the national security law imposed on the city in 2020 by the central government in Beijing.

According to the ruling, six of the seven defendants convicted on Thursday, including Lee and Lai, carried a banner that criticized police and called for reforms as they left Victoria Park on August 18, 2019, and led a procession through the centre of the city. He was arrested a third time in December on fraud charges unrelated to last summer's protests. Forty-seven other high-profile democratic campaigners are facing subversion charges under the national security law, and have mostly been denied bail and are being held in detention. Organizers of the protest say that 1.7 million people marched that day in protest of a proposed bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Western governments, including the USA under both the Trump and Biden administrations, have condemned the arrest of the democracy leaders.

The verdict was the latest blow to the flagging democracy movement as the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing tighten the screws in their efforts to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Subsequent crackdowns on pro-democracy figures and changes to Hong Kong's semi-democracy have brought further recriminations and sanctions from the worldwide community.

"We are getting very close to the system of China but not yet", he said.

The State Department, in an annual report on Hong Kong issued Wednesday, said that the Hong Kong government "did not respect" the right to free assembly provided under local law, and that by imposing a national security law a year ago, China had "dramatically undermined rights and freedoms in Hong Kong".

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