Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted over 2019 protests

Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai were convicted for attending an unauthorised protest in 2019

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests in the second half of 2019, sparked by the extradition bill.

In addition, on Tuesday China enacted the reform of the local electoral system, which will completely marginalize the opposition in the Legislative Council (LegCo, Hong Kong Parliament).

The other defendants included prominent barrister Margaret Ng, 73; and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Albert Ho, 69; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Martin Lee, right, arrives at a court in Hong Kong Thursday on April 1.

The activists, apart from those who have been remanded in custody on other charges, were granted bail on condition they do not leave Hong Kong and must hand in all their travel documents.

Lai, the media tycoon, has been charged in a separate national security case for allegedly lobbying for American sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials.

Two others, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, had previously pleaded guilty.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, now in custody after his arrest under Beijing's new national security law, was among those convicted.

"So on this day, in a very hard situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us, " said Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants ahead of the court session.

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

The four-week trial was heard in West Kowloon Court, where Judge Amanda Woodcock read the verdict on Thursday morning.

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"We will still march on no matter what lies in the future".

It was easily one of the biggest rallies that year, with dense crowds marching peacefully for hours under a sea of umbrellas and thundery skies.

Seven were found guilty of organising and knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly.

Protests in Hong Kong can only go ahead with the permission of authorities and rights groups have long criticised the use of unauthorised assembly prosecutions. David Perry, a prominent British barrister who was hired to lead the prosecution, dropped the case after coming under sharp criticism at home.

The judge said she did not agree with the argument that the defendants should not be arrested, prosecuted or convicted because the march was ultimately peaceful in the end.

© Photograph: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images Seven Hong Kong democracy figures have been found guilty over a 2019 protest in Victoria Park.

Authorities have since unleashed a broad crackdown and Beijing has imposed a new security law which criminalises much dissent.

The movement eventually fizzled out under the combined weight of exhaustion, some 10,000 arrests and the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision comes shortly after top Chinese lawmakers approved a sweeping plan that effectively ends open elections in 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", Prof Davis said.

Critics counter that Beijing has shredded the liberties and autonomy it promised Hong Kong could maintain after the handover.

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