HONG KONG (AP) — Seven pro-democracy advocates were convicted Thursday for organizing and participating in an unlawful assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019, as Hong Kong continues its crackdown on dissent.
The seven activists include media tycoon and founder of the Apple Daily tabloid Jimmy Lai, as well as 82-year-old Martin Lee, a veteran of the city’s democracy movement. Lai had already 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 Aug. 18, 2019. Organizers 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.
Ahead of the trial, supporters and some of the defendants gathered outside court, shouting slogans like “Oppose political persecution” and “Five demands, not one less," in reference to demands by pro-democracy supporters that include amnesty for those arrested in the protests as well as universal suffrage.
“So on this day, in a very difficult situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants ahead of the court session.
“We will still march on no matter what lies in the future. We believe in the people of Hong Kong, in our brothers and sisters in our struggle, and the victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent,” he said.
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 The bill was eventually withdrawn, but the protests expanded to include full democracy and other demands and at times descended into violence between protesters and police.
In the aftermath of the protests, Beijing has taken a tougher stance on dissent, implementing a national security law on Hong Kong and approving electoral reforms that would reduce the public’s role in voting in lawmakers for the city’s legislature.
Taking part in an unlawful assembly or a riot in Hong Kong can result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment for serious offenses.