Hong Kong court discovers leading democracy activists guilty of unlawful assembly

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Seven leading Hong Kong pro-democracy personalities were convicted on Thursday of organizing and participating in an unauthorized assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019 including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, marking the territory’s latest crackdown on disagreement.

The four-week trial was heard in West Kowloon Court, where Judge Amanda Woodcock read the verdict on Thursday morning. Prosecutors accused the seven activists of transforming an approved assembly in the city’s Victoria Park into an illegal march, while the defense lawyers argued that they were only rallying outside the park because of the overcrowding. Lai’s co-defendants included Martin Lee who is the founder of the city’s Democratic Party and is famously known as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” and former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Cyd Ho Sau-lan and Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee.

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Lai, Martin Lee and Albert Ho who are three of those convicted were previously named by Chinese state media as part of a “Gang of Four” liable for widespread protests in 2019 in Hong Kong. The label was referred from the four radical Chinese leaders who officially took the blame for the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The protest took place in August 2019 in the middle of citywide anti-government protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill and to demand full democracy in Hong Kong. The demonstration’s organizer said that there were 1.7 million people that joined in the protest, which later saw violent confrontation with the police.

Jimmy Lai and six former opposition legislators face up to 5 years in prison. The court is expected to deliver sentencing at a later date. Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-Chung, the two other ex-legislators involved in the same case pleaded guilty before the trial even started.

Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper and a longtime critic of Beijing, is already in custody since being charged late last year with conspiracy with foreign forces under the city’s national security law. That charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. He has also been involved in a number of other criminal cases. 

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