9 Hong Kong activists go on trial over large democracy rally | Hong Kong Protests Information
Two plead guilty to veteran politician Martin Lee among those in the dock over one of the largest democracy protests in 2019.
Two former Hong Kong lawmakers plead guilty of organizing or participating in one of the largest pro-democracy protests in the China-controlled city in 2019.
The two were under nine, including veteran pro-democracy politician Martin Lee and media magnate Jimmy Lai, whose trials began Tuesday in the semi-autonomous area.
The nine were arrested along with several others in April last year in what was seen as an attempt to crack down on dissent.
The two plead guilty were Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, both former members of the Hong Kong legislature.
Au was accused of organizing and attending an illegal gathering and Leung was accused of attending an illegal gathering.
The charges arose out of a protest on August 18, 2019, which, despite heavy rain, is estimated to have been attended by more than a million people.
The organizers called it the second largest protest of the year. An estimated 1.7 million people marched peacefully for hours, mostly in black and with umbrellas to protect them from the rain.
The 2019 protests, fueled by perceptions that Beijing curtailed the far-reaching freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since the surrender.
Leung and Au will hear the verdict on March 22nd.
“Rule out of fear”
The other seven pleaded not guilty.
These included Lee, the 82-year-old Hong Kong democracy movement veteran, and Jimmy Lai, a newspaper publisher who is being held without bail under the National Security Law that China imposed on the territory last June.
Democracy-friendly lawmaker Martin Lee will come to a court in Hong Kong on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 [Vincent Yu/ AP]Veterans Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, known as Long Hair, shouted, “Appeal political persecution!” when they made the not guilty plea.
The nine face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Before the trial, supporters and some of the accused gathered in front of the court. One banner read, “Peaceful gathering is not a crime; Shame on the political persecution. “
Lee Cheuk-yan said the law has become an instrument of political repression. “It is very sad to see the rule of law in Hong Kong deteriorate into a rule through fear,” he said.
Protests in Hong Kong can only be conducted with the authorization of the authorities, although rights groups have long criticized the use of law enforcement measures in connection with unauthorized gatherings.
Protests have been practically banned since 2019 as the authorities refused permission either for security reasons or later because of the pandemic.
The national security law, which punishes anything Beijing sees as secession, subversion, terrorism, or colluding with foreign forces with life imprisonment, has also curbed political activity.
Since the law was passed, the government has disqualified opposition politicians and detained activists, while authorities have banned slogans, songs and pro-democracy political activities in schools.