Nine veteran Hong Kong activists were found guilty on Thursday for their role in organizing one of the largest demonstrations of 2019, a decision that once again illustrates the relentless crackdown in the Chinese region.
Among the nine are some of the most respected personalities in the struggle for freedoms in the former British colony, often apostles of non-violence who have mobilized for decades for the establishment of true universal suffrage.
One of the best known is 82-year-old lawyer Martin Lee, who before the retrocession in 1997 was chosen by Beijing to draft the Basic Law, which serves as a mini-constitution in the semi-autonomous region.
Also on trial were former opposition MP and lawyer Margaret Ng, 73, as well as media mogul Jimmy Lai and former MP Leung Kwok-hung, known by the nickname “Long Hair.”
The latter two are in pre-trial detention for further prosecutions in the name of the draconian national security law that Beijing imposed in late June 2020.
The rest are figures from the Civil Front for Human Rights (CHRF), the coalition that organized the most massive demonstrations of 2019, when the city plunged into its worst political crisis since the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, with almost daily actions and mobilizations. .
– “We are very proud” –
The Hong Kong District Court found seven of them guilty of organizing and participating in an illegal rally. The other two had pleaded guilty.
They are exposed to five years in prison. The penalties will be made public on April 16.
“We are very proud even though we have to go to jail for it,” former MP and union leader Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters. “Regardless of what the future holds, we will never stop marching.”
On Thursday morning, some of his supporters gathered near the court with banners denouncing “political repression”.
It is an emblematic case because it involves the organization of an unauthorized demonstration on August 18, 2019, which had been one of the most attended in seven months of protest.
Organizers accounted for 1.7 million protesters that day, representing nearly one in four Hong Kongers. This figure could not be independently verified.
For hours, a large procession peacefully marched through the streets of central Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong human rights associations have long complained that the authorities use the term “organizing and participating in an unauthorized rally.”
– Automobile traffic –
British lawyer David Perry, chosen by the Hong Kong government to lead the prosecution against the nine, ended up resigning to do so due to strong criticism from London and British legal organizations when it was learned that he had accepted it.
The prosecution claimed that the nine defied the ban on demonstrating, causing problems in car traffic in the city.
At sentencing, Judge AJ Woodcock noted that she was inclined to impose the maximum penalty and hinted that the peaceful nature of the protest was not a valid excuse.
“(…) Public order considerations are not limited only to cases of violence but also to serious traffic disturbances, as was the case,” the judgment indicates.
The popularity of the protest was reflected at the polls with the opposition’s victory in the local elections in November 2019.
But the movement suffered a halt in early 2020 due to the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus pandemic, the thousands of arrests and a certain fatigue of the protesters.
Barring the abandonment of the controversial extradition law that sparked the protests, the protesters have achieved nothing.
And in June 2020, the Chinese authorities imposed the draconian national security law.
Demonstrations can no longer be held in the city and the authorities, under the pretext of the coronavirus, have postponed a year the legislative elections in which the opposition had the chance to see the popularity of their struggle reflected.
In addition, on Tuesday China enacted the reform of the local electoral system, which will completely marginalize the opposition in the Legislative Council (LegCo, Hong Kong Parliament).
su-yan-jta / jac / ahe / erl-me