Jimmy Lai among seven found guilty of unauthorized assembly in HK

Ruben Fields
April 2, 2021

A Hong Kong court has found seven democracy advocates guilty of unauthorized assembly charges involving anti-government protests in August 2019.

"Their conviction is yet another example of Beijing eroding Hong Kong's freedoms and failing to live up to its global obligations", White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Leung is a former member of the Legislative Council.

"Shame on political prosecution!"

Some struck a defiant tone outside court on Thursday morning ahead of the verdict, holding banners that read "protest political suppression".

The seven include media tycoon and founder of the Apple Daily tabloid Jimmy Lai, as well as 82-year-old Martin Lee, a veteran of the city's democracy movement. The maximum possible sentence is 5 years. They must all relinquish their travel documents. However, SCMP reported that Lai, Leung Kwok-hung, and Au will remain in custody because of separate legal issues.

The Hong Kong District Court found seven of them guilty of organizing and participating in an illegal rally.

That rally - one of dozens in 2019 - drew hundreds of thousands of people.

"We are very proud even if we have to go to jail for it", Lee Cheuk-yan, a former legislator and labour leader told reporters.

Lee Cheuk-yan, center, said he would still march in the future, despite the result of the trial. Due to the repression carried out by local and central authorities, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that Hong Kong has now lost its autonomy from Beijing: this will force Washington to withdraw the special status on trade from the former British colony.

The defence team say that freedom of assembly is protected under Hong Kong's constitution, and that authorities had approved a demonstration which then grew into the unauthorised march.

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Their lawyers argued that leading protesters out of the park, which had filled with many more people than it could handle, was necessary for public safety.

Beijing said the law would target "sedition" and bring stability. That was a description used to defy the law and circumvent the ban.

The defendants had sought to challenge the constitutionality of police operations law regarding the criminalisation of unauthorised assemblies amounts to a "disproportionate restriction on the right to freedom of assembly and procession".

The court granted bail to five of the defendants.

After the draconic national security law was passed in July that allowed Beijing to detain people for subversion i.e taking part in what was viewed as anti-government protests, pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong and activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were arrested in November.

Nonetheless, Martin Lee had avoided arrest until past year. He has been held ever since then, except for briefly receiving bail before the order was reversed on appeal.

"So on this day, in a very hard situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us", Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants ahead of the court session, said. Organisers said that 1.7 million people marched that day in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed 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 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".

The case is part of a push to disband Hong Kong's democratic institutions and clamp down on the opposition's moderate wing, according to Michael Davis, a professor of law and worldwide affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in India and a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

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