Seven Hong Kong activists convicted over 2019 illegal assembly

Seven pro-democracy advocates, including 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, were convicted Thursday for organising and participating in an unlawful assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019 -- as part of an intensifying crackdown by China on its freest city.

Lai had already been held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities.

The group of activists were convicted for their involvement in a protest held on August 18, 2019. Organisers of the protest say that 1.7 million people marched that day in protest of a proposed bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests in the second half of 2019, sparked by the extradition bill. The bill was eventually withdrawn, but the protests expanded to include full democracy and other demands and at times descended into violence between protesters and police.

Sentencing will come later, with some legal experts expecting jail terms of 12-18 months. The maximum possible sentence is 5 years.

Two others had previously pleaded guilty. They face up to five years in jail.

Also read | US condemns China's efforts to silence Hong Kong's democratic voices

The other defendants included prominent 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 guilty.

A small group of supporters displayed banners outside the West Kowloon court building, including one that read "Oppose Political Persecution".

Critics, including Western governments, have condemned the arrests of Lee and other democrats amid the ongoing crackdown. Forty-seven other high-profile democratic campaigners are facing subversion charges under the national security law, and have mostly been denied bail and are being held in detention.

The US said on Wednesday that Hong Kong does not warrant preferential treatment under the Hong Kong Policy Act, a law that had allowed Washington to maintain a special relationship with the city.

The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing's tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.

Also read | China sharply reduces elected seats in Hong Kong legislature to 20 from 35 

Beijing has since imposed a sweeping national security law, punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. 



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