By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
HONG KONG, April 1 (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court docket will hand down verdicts on Thursday for 9 outstanding democrats on unauthorised meeting costs, together with 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, as a part of an intensifying crackdown by China on its freest metropolis.
Lee, who helped launch the town’s largest opposition Democratic Celebration within the Nineties and is commonly known as the previous British colony’s “father of democracy,” is accused of participating in an unauthorised meeting on Aug. 18, 2019, and might be jailed for 12-18 months, in accordance with some authorized consultants.
Lee, Lai, and 5 different defendants together with outstanding barrister Margaret Ng and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung-kwok-hung, Albert Ho, Cyd Ho, had pleaded not responsible.
A small group of supporters displayed banners exterior the West Kowloon court docket constructing, together with one which learn “Oppose Political Persecution”.
“We’ll proceed the wrestle,” stated Lee Cheuk-yan, 64.
In the course of the trial, defence attorneys argued that freedom of meeting is a constitutional proper in Hong Kong, and famous that police had accredited the peaceable demonstration within the metropolis’s downtown Victoria Park, which grew into an unauthorised march as numbers swelled into the lots of of 1000’s.
The prosecution argued that the liberty of meeting is not absolute in Hong Kong.
Solely two democrats, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, pleaded responsible.
Critics, together with Western governments, have condemned the arrests of Lee and different democrats amid the continuing crackdown. 47 different high-profile democratic campaigners are dealing with subversion costs underneath the nationwide safety regulation, and have principally been denied bail and are being held in detention.
The U.S. stated on Wednesday that Hong Kong doesn’t warrant preferential therapy underneath the Hong Kong Coverage Act, a regulation that had allowed Washington to keep up a particular relationship with the town.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated in a information launch that China had “severely undermined the rights and freedoms of individuals in Hong Kong”, by way of arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions in addition to “stress on judicial independence and tutorial and press freedoms.”
The 2019 pro-democracy protests have been spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese language rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous metropolis into its largest disaster because the handover.
Beijing has since imposed a sweeping nationwide safety regulation, punishing something it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with international forces with as much as life in jail.
Because the regulation’s promulgation, the federal government has sshould crush the opposition motion, barred protests and curbed political expression, and overhauled the town’s electoral system to make sure solely pro-China “patriots” govern Hong Kong.
Hong Kong and Chinese language authorities, nonetheless, say the safety regulation and electoral reforms are wanted to revive stability and to resolve “deep-seated” issues, and that human rights shall be safeguarded.
(Enhancing by Gerry Doyle)
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