Hong Kong Convicts Martin Lee and Different Democracy Leaders Over Protest

HONG KONG – Seven of Hong Kong’s leading democracy advocates were found guilty of unauthorized rallying on Thursday as Beijing’s campaign to crack down on the city’s opposition attracted some of its oldest and most famous figures.

Martin Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer known in Hong Kong as the “Father of Democracy,” Jimmy Lai, 73, media magnate and founder of the Apple Daily Democracy, and Margaret Ng, 73, a respected lawyer and columnist were convicted along with four others of participating in and organizing an unauthorized march in 2019.

The persecution of democracy veterans in Hong Kong was stopped by their supporters as a serious assault on freedom of expression and other civil liberties that were once central to the city’s identity. Hong Kong authorities have overseen wide-ranging crackdown on the democracy movement since the city was hit by anti-government protests in 2019. More than 2,400 people were charged as authorities tried to quell the movement that has posed the greatest challenge to Beijing’s rule in decades.

Beijing has tried to portray some of the opposition as subversive elements working with hostile foreign forces to undermine Chinese sovereignty. Critics of this view say that the ruling Communist Party is only distracting the real democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people.

Mr. Lee, Mr. Lai and Albert Ho were denounced in the Chinese state media as part of a “gang of four” that sparked riots in 2019, an allegation that contradicts the largely leaderless movement on the streets.

The case revolved around a rally on August 18, 2019, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered to protest against the government.

This meeting had been approved by the police. But what followed did not. The defendants were charged with leading protesters out of Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island and starting a march towards the core business district. Although there was no violence and minimal disorder, prosecutors argued that the march violated the Hong Kong Public Order Ordinance.

Her lawyers argued that it was necessary for public safety to lead protesters out of the park, which was home to many more people than they could handle. They also said detention via a peaceful march was a persistent application of the law.

This summer’s protests initially focused on a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but were expanded to include calls for direct elections and an investigation into the use of force by the police.

The persecution of the city’s pro-democracy leaders for peaceful protest has sparked international outcry. David Perry, a prominent British attorney hired to lead the prosecution, dropped the case after being sharply criticized at home. Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, had said Mr. Perry was a “handsome mercenary” and would bring the Chinese government a PR win.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an annual report on Hong Kong released on Wednesday that the Hong Kong government “does not respect” the right to free assembly under local law and that China was “dramatic” with the introduction of a national security law last year for rights and freedoms in Hong Kong undermine. “

The process took 20 days, twice as long as planned.

The defendants, who include labor organizer Lee Cheuk-yan and former lawmakers Cyd Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, face up to five years in prison. Sentences will be pronounced later.

Another former lawmaker, Au Nok-hin, 33, had previously pleaded guilty to both charges, while Leung Yiu-chung, 67, pleaded guilty to a single charge of participating in the protest.

The ruling could set expectations for several lawsuits on similar charges of illegal protests earlier this year.

In addition, 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists were charged with subversion under the new security law for participating in a pre-election program that prosecutors said was part of the plan to subvert the government.

Mr. Lai, the media tycoon, has been charged in a separate national security trial for allegedly lobbying for American sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials.

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