Hong Kong, April 1 (ANI): A Hong Kong court has convicted pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai and eight other prominent opposition activists over their roles in an assembly at the height of the 2019 protests.
According to CNN, the other defendants included "Hong Kong's father of democracy" Martin Lee and veteran pro-democracy figures Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan. They were charged with organising and taking part in a peaceful protest on Hong Kong Island on August 18, 2019, which had been banned by police.
Among the nine defendants, ex-lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday, judge Amanda Woodcock convicted the defendants, adding they will be sentenced at another date. The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
"The prosecution is able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that all the defendants organized what amounted to an unauthorized assembly on August 18, 2019," she told the court.
The decision followed a 20-day trial in February and March, one of many that have emerged from the almost year-long unrest that rocked the city in 2019.
Lai, who owns the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily and is a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party has been remanded in custody for months, facing a range of charges related to 2019 and under the draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last year.
CNN reported that Audrey Eu, a barrister who represented Lai, argued in court that police should not be given the power to ban peaceful protests because it would violate the constitutional protection for freedom of assembly. She also argued the defendants were merely leading protesters away from Victoria Park because of overcrowding.
The judge said further that Hong Kong's top court has previously upheld the legality of police banning protests to protect the public interest, and said there were no "good and arguable grounds" for suggesting the defendants were just dispersing the crowd.
"The decision to prosecute remains the sole authority of the Department of Justice," she added. "There were no grounds raised to justify an interference with that decision."
Speaking before the court session, veteran pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan thanked Hong Kongers for their support and called on them to keep up the fight for democracy. "We will still march on, no matter what lies in the future. We believe in the people of Hong Kong. The victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent," he said, according to CNN.
Thursday's verdict comes days after Beijing passed a new "patriotic" election law for Hong Kong that will drastically limit the ability of ordinary people to elect their leaders, and could spell the end for the city's traditional pro-democracy opposition.
In the name of bringing reforms to the city's electoral system, China has attacked the region's autonomy and freedoms - and in turn the democratic process. It will further limit the participation of people who are 'patriots', reduce democratic representation, and stifle political debate in order to defy the clear will of the people of Hong Kong to deny their voice being heard in their own government.
However, China justifies the process by maintaining that this arrangement was in line with the stipulations and principles of the Constitution and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and that it will ensure the steady practice of "one country, two systems", and help maintain long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong.
Beijing was perturbed by violent anti-government protests in 2019 anThe process will also further concentrate power in the hands of the ruling Communist Party and decimate the political hopes of the territory's already beleaguered opposition for years to come, writes Taiwan Times.
d has imposed the national security law to take action against those who protested against the government.
These actions have raised fears among the people was rejecting the 'one country, two systems' concept which the city was promised when it was transferred from British to Chinese control in 1997, says Taiwan Times. The law remains China's most aggressive assault on Hong Kong's freedom till now. (ANI)