A Hong Kong court has found seven pro-democracy activists guilty of charges related to anti-government protests in 2019.
Among those convicted on Thursday were media business leader Jimmy Lai and 82-year-old Martin Lee, a longtime democracy movement supporter. Lee has often been called Hong Kong’s “father of democracy.”
The two were found guilty with five former pro-democracy lawmakers. All of the individuals are in their 60s or older. The defendants are to be sentenced on April 16. Some legal experts are predicting jail terms of 12 to 18 months. The longest possible sentence is 5 years.
The charges are linked to a pro-democracy march that took place during huge anti-government protests in 2019. The judge who gave the ruling said evidence in the trial showed the defendants had organized and taken part in an unlawful “assembly.”
Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantees individuals the right to peaceful assembly. But the judge noted that restrictions are placed on that right “for preserving public safety and public order, and protecting the rights of others."
The ruling states the defendants carried a sign that criticized police and called for government reforms during the march, which began at Victoria Park on August 18, 2019. The marchers went from the park through the city center.
Police gave permission for a protest at Victoria Park, but rejected a request for the march. Organizers estimated that 1.7 million people marched on that day in opposition to a proposed Hong Kong extradition bill. The legislation, which was later withdrawn, would have permitted criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
That protest started months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the former British territory. Some of the protests led to violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to its own social, legal and political systems. The policy started after Britain returned the territory to Chinese rule in 1997. But moves by China in recent years to restrict freedoms in Hong Kong have resulted in protests.
The pro-democracy movement strongly criticized a national security law passed in June 2020 by the government in Beijing. The law sharply limits speech and other freedoms in Hong Kong. Critics say it is meant to silence dissent. Last month, China also announced changes that greatly reduced the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature.
Most of Hong Kong’s main activists are now in jail or in self-exile outside of Hong Kong.
Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan was among those convicted. He criticized the judgement, saying he and all other citizens of Hong Kong have the constitutional right to march. “We are firm that we have the right to assemble,” he said. “It is our badge of honor to be in jail for walking together with the people of Hong Kong.”
Six of the nine defendants in the case have been released on bail. Conditions for their temporary release from jail include that they do not leave Hong Kong and that they hand over all travel documents.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
convict – v. to prove that someone is guilty of a crime in a court of law
assembly – n. a group of people gathering together
preserve –v. to keep something safe from harm; to protect
badge of honor – n. a mark or expression of pride
bail – n. an amount of money given to a court to allow a prisoner to leave jail and return later for a trial