By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong courtroom discovered seven distinguished democrats responsible of unauthorised meeting expenses, 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 Social gathering within the Nineteen Nineties and is commonly known as the previous British colony’s “father of democracy,” was accused of participating in an unauthorised meeting on Aug. 18, 2019.
The silver-haired Lee and the others sat impassively as district courtroom decide Amanda Woodcock handed down her choice.
“I’ve discovered after trial the prosecution capable of show past cheap doubt that the entire defendants collectively organised what amounted to an unauthorised meeting,” the district courtroom decide famous within the full written judgement.
They have been additionally discovered responsible of knowingly taking part in an unauthorised meeting.
Though Hong Kong’s mini-constitution ensures the precise to peaceable meeting, Woodcock added, “restrictions are imposed, together with these for preserving public security and public order, and defending the rights of others.”
Sentencing will come later, with some authorized consultants anticipating jail phrases of 12-18 months. The utmost attainable sentence is 5 years.
The opposite defendants included distinguished barrister Margaret Ng and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Ho, Cyd Ho. Two others, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung had earlier pleaded responsible.
A small group of supporters displayed banners exterior the West Kowloon courtroom constructing, together with one which learn “Oppose Political Persecution”.
“We are going to proceed the battle,” stated Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, simply earlier than getting into courtroom.
Through 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 tons of of hundreds.
The prosecution argued that the liberty of meeting is not absolute in Hong Kong.
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 expenses 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”, via arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions in addition to “strain 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 overseas forces with as much as life in jail.
Because the regulation’s promulgation, the federal government has sought to 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 will probably be safeguarded.
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.