Hong Kong democracy leaders found guilty over peaceful 2019 protest The Guardian

Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists found guilty in 2019 demonstration

Nine veteran Hong Kong activists face jail after they were convicted Thursday for their roles in organising one of the biggest democracy protests to engulf the city in 2019. Subsequent crackdowns on pro-democracy figures and changes to Hong Kong's semi-democracy have brought further recriminations and sanctions from the worldwide community.

The condemnation is a blow to the movement fighting to preserve democracy in Hong Kong, which is becoming increasingly authoritarian in China.

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.

The case is seen as the latest crackdown by China on its freest city after the imposition of a sweeping national security law a year ago.

Shortly before entering court Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, told media there was a "difficult situation in Hong Kong", and labeled their prosecution as political retaliation. just before entering court.

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.

Leung Kwok-hung, an opposition politician known by his sobriquet "Longhair" who has also been detained on national security charges, was also sent down. Two other ex-legislators - Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung - pleaded guilty in February before the trial began.

"In a very hard situation in Hong Kong, the political retaliation is on us", said Lee Cheuk-yan, speaking before the verdict. "Regardless of what the future holds, we will never stop marching".

The activists were convicted for their involvement in a massive protest held on August 18, 2019, where almost 1.7 million people marched against a proposed bill that would allow for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Organisers claimed 1.7 million people turned out - nearly one in four Hong Kong residents - though that number was hard to independently verify.

The Hong Kong District Court found seven of them guilty of organizing and participating in an illegal rally.

During the trial, defence lawyers argued that freedom of assembly is a constitutional right in Hong Kong, and noted that police had approved the peaceful demonstration in the city's downtown Victoria Park, which grew into an unauthorised march as numbers swelled into the hundreds of thousands. David Perry, a prominent British barrister who was hired to lead the prosecution, dropped the case after coming under sharp criticism at home. Judge Amanda Woodcock will rule on the sentence on April 16, after the defense attorneys have submitted requests for the sentence to be mitigated.

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

Next Digital publishes Apple Daily, a well-read tabloid which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.

The U.S. said on Wednesday that Hong Kong does not warrant preferential treatment under the Hong Kong Policy Act, a law that had allowed Washington to maintain a special relationship with the city.



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