A Hong Kong court docket has convicted a few of the metropolis’s most senior pro-democracy figures, together with media mogul Jimmy Lai, of unauthorised meeting throughout protests in 2019, within the newest indication of the federal government’s efforts to crush dissident voices within the territory.
The group of seven convicted pro-democracy activists additionally included Martin Lee, 82, a UK-trained barrister referred to as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy”. Lee co-authored the Fundamental Regulation, the authorized framework that has underpinned the territory’s governance since its handover from British to Chinese language rule in 1997.
Lai, 73, is the founding father of Apple Each day, the town’s greatest pro-democracy newspaper, which has been sharply important of native and Chinese language authorities for years. He has been in custody since final yr on separate expenses and has been repeatedly denied bail.
All seven pleaded not responsible to the fees.
“I’ve discovered after trial the prosecution capable of show past affordable doubt that all the defendants collectively organised what amounted to an unauthorised meeting on 18 August 2019,” mentioned Amanda Jane Woodcock, the district decide.
The group was accused of organising and taking part in an indication through which an estimated 1.7m individuals marched, a part of the wave of anti-government protests that engulfed the town in 2019. The leaderless motion represented the most important problem to communist celebration rule on Chinese language soil in a long time.
Critics mentioned the choice to prosecute the aged activists was a part of a wider crackdown in opposition to anybody perceived as disloyal to Beijing within the wake of the protests.
China has tightened its grip on the territory, imposing a nationwide safety regulation final yr that gave authorities sweeping powers to focus on people deemed to be engaged within the poorly outlined crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with overseas forces.
Beijing has additionally intensified its efforts to remould Hong Kong’s political and cultural panorama. The Nationwide Folks’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, final month authorised adjustments to the town’s electoral system designed to snuff out the opposition.
“It’s our badge of honour to be put in jail for strolling along with the individuals of Hong Kong,” mentioned Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, a pro-democracy lawmaker and activist who was a kind of convicted.
Many of the defendants have been granted bail, aside from Jimmy Lai and Leung Kwok-hung, an activist referred to as Lengthy Hair. Each will stay in custody. A sentencing listening to shall be held on April 16.
In addition to the seven convicted on Thursday, two different defendants in the identical case pleaded responsible initially of the trial.
The hearings had a funereal air, with a unfastened assortment of activists and pro-democracy lawmakers in common attendance.
Ada, a 40-year-old gross sales assistant, mentioned on Thursday: “In the present day is April Idiot’s Day . . . I knew that Hong Kong is now an absurd place, however I simply needed to witness it.”
Individually, the case of Andy Li, an activist who was a part of a gaggle captured by China’s coast guard final August whereas trying to flee the town by pace boat, has raised questions concerning the integrity of Hong Kong’s revered authorized system.
The group of 12 was intercepted whereas attempting to flee to Taiwan and detained in Shenzhen, the Chinese language metropolis throughout the border from Hong Kong. Police have returned 10 of them to the territory, however Li’s household has been unable to establish his whereabouts.
The household mentioned a lawyer who represented Li at a listening to was not appointed by them, in a extremely uncommon authorized process.