Hong Kong pro-democracy figures to be sentenced amid crackdown on dissent | Hong Kong

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Hong Kong pro-democracy activist group including media mogul Jimmy Lai to be sentenced on Friday for organizing or attending “unauthorized assemblies” during mass protests that rocked the city in 2019.

At least some should be sentenced to prison terms of up to five years, another blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, as authorities work to crush all forms of dissent.

Along with Lai, the group includes veteran activists Lee Cheuk Yan and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, lawyer Martin Lee, 82, widely known as the father of democracy in Hong Kong, and lawyer and former lawyer. 73 years old. lawmaker Margaret Ng.

The sentences relate to convictions in two cases – one related to a protest on August 18, 2019 and the other two weeks later on August 31.

Lai and Lee Cheuk Yan were accused in both cases. Lai, who faces other charges, including under Beijing’s National Security Law last year, has been in pre-trial detention since late last year, but Friday will mark the first time that ‘he was sentenced.

Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan waves to a supporter as he arrives in West Kowloon courts to be sentenced on Friday.
Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan waves to a supporter as he arrives in West Kowloon courts to be sentenced on Friday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Its repeated arrests and the related raid on its newsrooms have drawn international condemnation. Lee also faces a number of other cases related to the protests this year and previously told the Guardian he expected to be jailed.

Dozens of people lined up to enter West Kowloon courthouse on Friday morning, including foreign diplomats and former Hong Kong lawmakers. Former Democrat MP Emily Lau told the Hong Kong Free Press that she was concerned about her former colleagues.

“We hope they will get fair and equitable treatment from the Hong Kong judiciary,” she said. “Some of us still have a little faith in the justice system, but we’ll wait and see.”

Outside the court, the defendants raised their hands to signal “five requests, not one less”, the rallying cry of the movement. Lee Cheuk Yan urged Hong Kong people to “hold on”.

“I am ready to face the punishment and condemnation and I am proud to be able to walk with the people of Hong Kong for this democracy,” said Lee. “We will walk together even in the dark.”

The offenses spent a maximum of five years in prison. Critics had argued that imposing prison sentences for unauthorized protest offenses would be disproportionate.

During the mitigation, Margaret Ng said court laws should “protect rights, not take them away, especially in Hong Kong where structural democracy is absent.”

“We are aware that when the court applies a law that takes away fundamental rights, confidence in the courts and judicial independence are undermined, even when the fault lies in the law, not with the judge applying it, and that would strike the foundation of our rule of law. “

Ng said there was “no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.”

Prosecutors accused the individuals of organizing or participating in unauthorized rallies on two dates in August 2019, at the height of mass pro-democracy protests that crippled the city.

On April 2, District Judge Amanda Woodcock convicted seven defendants and accepted two guilty pleas at the August 18 rally.

About 1.7 million people marched in the August 18 rally, which was relatively peaceful, but against police orders. Its organizers, the Civil Human Rights Front, had been authorized to organize a rally in Victoria Park, but not a march, which began when crowds poured into the streets, using main roads to get to government offices in a few kilometers away.

Woodcock concluded against the defense that the march was “a dispersal plan born of necessity” and rather was an unauthorized public procession.

The August 31 rally – to which Lee Cheuk Yan, Lai and former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum pleaded guilty on April 7 – was initially called off by organizers after police arrested lawmakers and pro-democracy activists , but the crowds protested nonetheless.

In his plea, Lee told the court that the group had done nothing wrong and that “history will absolve us.”

Beginning with a peaceful march earlier in the day, the protest descended into violence and chaos, with protesters and police clashing at various locations around the city. Police used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and live ammunition “warning shots” in response to protesters surrounding the government and police headquarters, burning roadblock barricades and others. debris, the Guardian reported at the time. Elsewhere, riot police stormed the Prince Edward subway station and used batons to beat passengers.

More than 10,200 people were arrested in the 2019 mass protests, which began with a protest against a bill allowing extradition to China, but which evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement that has experienced violent clashes with increasingly brutal police intervention teams. Fewer than 3,000 of these arrests made their way through the justice system.

Subsequent crackdown by authorities, using existing criminal laws, a draconian national security law introduced by Beijing in 2020, and anti-pandemic laws, ended the mass protests, and more than 100 people were arrested under the charge. suspicion of attacks on national security, many of them from the opposition camp. This week, the government published amendment bills in the Official Gazette to revise the electoral system, introduce police scrutiny of candidates, ban calls to boycott the vote, and limit the number of seats candidates hold. of the opposition could hold.

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