Hong Kong’s “father of democracy” Martin Lee and media mogul Jimmy Lai have been amongst a gaggle of opposition activists discovered responsible for attending an unauthorized protest in 2019, within the newest blow to town’s beleaguered opposition.

Lee, 82, who helped lead the pro-democracy camp in the course of the former British colony’s transition to Chinese rule, was convicted Thursday in a courtroom within the West Kowloon space together with fellow activists Albert Ho, Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho and Margaret Ng. The courtroom set sentencing for April 16.

“We are very disappointed with the verdict because what we have done is only exercising our constitutional rights,” Lee Cheuk-yan stated exterior the courtroom. “But it’s a badge of honor for us that we are convicted for walking together with the people of Hong Kong for democracy and freedom.”

Martin Lee declined to touch upon the decision. Diplomats from the European Union, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Australia and New Zealand attended the listening to.

The courtroom case is the newest in a collection of main setbacks in current weeks for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp. The group on trial comprised veteran activists who’ve for years supported causes reminiscent of human rights and ladies’s rights, and arranged vigils commemorating the 1989 crackdown on pupil demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

The choice comes shortly after high Chinese lawmakers authorized a sweeping plan that successfully ends open elections in Hong Kong. The metropolis’s authorities individually charged some 47 distinguished opposition figures with “conspiracy to commit subversion” below a nationwide safety regulation imposed final yr that carries sentences so long as life in jail.

Martin Lee was amongst 15 distinguished democracy activists accused final yr of collaborating in a historic — however unauthorized — march on Aug. 18, 2019. The largely peaceable demonstration was one of many largest held throughout months of unrest over proposed extradition laws, with an estimated 1.7 million folks attending.

The case is a part of a push to disband Hong Kong’s democratic establishments and clamp down on the opposition’s reasonable wing, based on Michael Davis, a professor of regulation and worldwide affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in India and a former regulation professor on the University of Hong Kong.

“The government has chosen 15 people very carefully out of the 1.7 million protesters, and all are moderate democratic activists and politicians,” Davis stated. “It’s very hard to separate this trial from the current effort to prevent participation in the political process.”

Hong Kong police have swept up lots of the metropolis’s established opposition leaders among the many greater than 10,000 activists arrested for the reason that protests erupted in June 2019. Some, reminiscent of Jimmy Lai, face a number of prosecutions, together with prices below the nationwide safety regulation.

Two former opposition lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, had beforehand pleaded responsible to prices associated to the August 2019 protest. Six different individuals are anticipated to go on trial over the demonstration later this yr.

Martin Lee, a London-trained lawyer, has stoked Beijing’s ire for greater than three a long time, relationship again to his assist for the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent defeat of the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong’s first direct legislative elections. He sat on the committee that drafted Hong Kong’s post-handover constitution, based the Democratic Party and served as a lawmaker till his retirement in 2008.

Chinese authorities have accused him of being a “traitor” for testifying earlier than the US Congress, and in August 2019 labeled him as a part of a “New Gang of Four” in a publication below the Communist Party’s high authorized physique. The piece additionally named Lai and Ho, a former Democratic Party chief and chief government candidate, as members of the “gang” — a reference to a Communist Party faction jailed for making an attempt to grab energy after Mao Zedong’s loss of life in 1976.

Nonetheless, Martin Lee had averted arrest till final yr. In an op-ed revealed within the Washington Post final yr, he described his arrest as “part of a large plan” to snuff out dissent in Hong Kong.

“But once Hong Kong’s human rights and rule of law are rolled back, the fatal virus of authoritarian rule will be here to stay,” he stated.


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