HONG KONG (Reuters) -A Hong Kong courtroom discovered seven outstanding democrats responsible of unauthorised meeting expenses, together with 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, the most recent blow to the town’s beleaguered democracy motion.
Lee, who helped launch the town’s largest opposition Democratic Get together within the 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, all of their 60s or older, sat impassively as district courtroom decide Amanda Woodcock handed down her determination.
“I’ve discovered after trial the prosecution in a position to show past cheap doubt that all the defendants collectively organised what amounted to an unauthorised meeting,” the district courtroom decide mentioned 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 correct 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 on April 16, with some authorized specialists anticipating jail phrases of 12 to 18 months. The utmost attainable sentence is 5 years.
The opposite defendants included outstanding barrister Margaret Ng, 73; and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Albert Ho, 69; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66. Two others, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, 67, 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”.
“If we’re sentenced to jail sooner or later for this case … it’s our badge of honour to be jailed for strolling with the individuals of Hong Kong,” mentioned Lee Cheuk-yan, a former lawmaker who has been a pro-democracy activist because the late Seventies.
The decide rejected a request by the prosecution to maintain the 9 in custody, and granted them bail pending sentencing.
Throughout the trial, defence attorneys argued that freedom of meeting is a constitutional proper in Hong Kong, and famous that police had permitted 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 isn’t absolute in Hong Kong.
Critics, together with Western governments, have condemned the arrests of Lee and different democrats amid the continued crackdown. Forty-seven different high-profile democratic campaigners are dealing with subversion expenses underneath the nationwide safety legislation, and have largely been denied bail and are being held in detention.
The European Union workplace in Hong Kong mentioned the continued prosecutions of democrats are of “nice concern” and it could proceed to observe developments.
White Home spokeswoman Jen Psaki mentioned the convections have been “one more instance of Beijing eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms and failing to dwell as much as its worldwide obligations underneath the Sino-British joint declarations.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken mentioned on Wednesday he had licensed to Congress that Hong Kong didn’t warrant preferential financial therapy underneath a legislation that had allowed Washington to take care of a particular relationship with the town, reiterating determination reached final 12 months.
Blinken mentioned China had “severely undermined the rights and freedoms of individuals in Hong Kong”, by means of arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions in addition to “stress on judicial independence and educational 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 legislation, punishing something it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with international forces with as much as life in jail.
Because the legislation’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, nevertheless, say the safety legislation and electoral reforms are wanted to revive stability and to resolve “deep-seated” issues, and that human rights shall be safeguarded.
Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; extra reporting by David Brunnstrom and Heather Timmons in Washington; Modifying by Gerry Doyle, Jonathan Oatis and David Evans