Seven veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activists found guilty over protests

Thursday, April 1

Police lead Hong kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai away from his home after he was arrested under the new national security law in Hong kong on August 10, 2020. (Photo by VERNON YUEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Seven pro-democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, have been found guilty of organising and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

They were among nine high profile activists who were accused of organising and taking part in the assembly against perceived abuses of police power in August 2019. 

They are the latest group of democracy figures to be prosecuted as China oversees a sweeping crackdown on dissent in the restless financial hub.

Among them are Martin Lee, an 82-year-old barrister who was once chosen by Beijing to help write Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and Margaret Ng, a 73-year-old barrister and former opposition lawmaker.

Leung Kwok-hung, an opposition politician known by his sobriquet “Longhair” who has also been detained on national security charges, was also sent down.

Others are leading members of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the coalition that organised a series of huge rallies throughout 2019.

Seven were found guilty by Hong Kong District Court on Thursday of organising and knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly.

Two others had previously pleaded guilty. They face up to five years in jail.

 The group was prosecuted for organising an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019 — one of the biggest in Hong Kong that year as people took to the streets for seven straight months calling for democracy and greater police accountability.

Organisers claimed 1.7 million people turned out marching peacefully for hours under a sea of umbrellas and thundery skies.

Thousands of anti-government protesters march on a street after leaving a rally in Victoria Park on August 18, 2019 in Hong Kong  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Protests in Hong Kong can only go ahead with the permission of authorities and rights groups have long criticised the use of unauthorised assembly prosecutions.

Prosecutors accused the group of defying police instructions that day and encouraging crowds to march across Hong Kong’s main island, bringing traffic disruption.

Since 2019, protests have been all but outlawed with authorities either refusing permission on security grounds or later because of the pandemic.

The rallies in 2019 often descended into clashes between riot police and a knot of hardcore participants, and posed the most concerted challenge to China’s rule since the former British colony’s 1997 handover.

The movement eventually fizzled out under the combined weight of exhaustion, some 10,000 arrests and the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities have since unleashed a broad crackdown and Beijing has imposed a new security law which criminalises much dissent.

China and Hong Kong’s leaders say the law is needed to restore stability to the finance hub.

Critics counter that Beijing has shredded the liberties and autonomy it promised Hong Kong could maintain after the handover.