Senior HK democrats convicted over rallies

·2-min read

Seven Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates have been convicted on charges of organising and taking part in an unlawful assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019 that triggered a crackdown on dissent.

The seven include media tycoon and founder of the Apple Daily tabloid Jimmy Lai, as well as 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee, a veteran of the city's democracy movement.

Lai had already been held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities. Lee helped launch the city's largest opposition Democratic Party in the 1990s and is often called the former British colony's "father of democracy".

They were convicted for their involvement in a protest held on August 18, 2019. Organisers said 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.

The other defendants included prominent barrister Margaret Ng, 73; and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Albert Ho, 69; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66.

The activists, apart from those who have been remanded in custody on other charges, were granted bail on condition they do not leave Hong Kong and must hand in all their travel documents.

They will next appear in court on April 16, where mitigation pleas will be heard before sentences are handed down.

Previously, two other defendants - former pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung - had pleaded guilty to organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

Taking part in an unlawful assembly or a riot in Hong Kong can result in up to 10 years imprisonment.

Before the trial, supporters and some of the defendants gathered outside the court, shouting "Oppose political persecution" and "Five demands, not one less", in reference to demands by democracy supporters that include amnesty for those arrested in the protests as well as universal suffrage.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests in the second half of 2019, sparked by the extradition bill.

The bill was eventually withdrawn but the protests expanded to include full democracy and other demands and at times descended into violence between demonstrators and police.

After the protests, Beijing took a tough stance on dissent, imposing a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong and approving electoral reforms that would reduce public participation in elections and exclude critics from running for the city's legislature.