Hong Kong court finds leading activists guilty of illegal assembly

Several veteran Hong Kong activists convicted over huge anti-Beijing rally

Several veteran Hong Kong activists convicted over huge anti-Beijing rally

Three of those convicted - Lai, Martin Lee and Albert Ho - were previously named by Chinese state media as part of a "Gang of Four" responsible for widespread protests in 2019 in Hong Kong. Lai had already held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities.

Seven pro-democracy advocates, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and veteran of the city's democracy movement Martin Lee, were convicted.

The case is seen as the latest crackdown by China on its freest city after the imposition of a sweeping national security law previous year.

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

The defendants, who also include labour organiser Lee Cheuk-yan and former lawmakers Cyd Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, face up to five years in prison.

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 other ex-legislators - Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung - pleaded guilty in February before the trial began.

"Although things are getting very hard in Hong Kong and it seems that both the legal system and political system are looking more like the ones in China, I think we still have a very strong civil society and we need to hold onto that".

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

Some struck a defiant tone outside court on Thursday morning ahead of the verdict, holding banners that read "protest political suppression".

It is an emblematic case because it involves the organization of an unauthorized demonstration on August 18, 2019, which had been one of the most attended in seven months of protest.

Douglas County reports 20 new COVID-19 cases; 213 remain active
In total, 11,468 people are under public health monitoring because of identified exposure to known cases. Officials have now recorded 3,324 cases of COVID-19 in the island region since the pandemic began.

Organisers claimed 1.7 million people turned out - nearly one in four Hong Kong residents - though that number was hard to independently verify.

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.

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

British lawyer David Perry, hired by the Hong Kong government to be the lead prosecutor, stepped down following withering criticism from both the United Kingdom government and British legal bodies over his decision to take the job. Judge Amanda Woodcock will rule on the sentence on April 16, after the defense attorneys have submitted requests for the sentence to be mitigated.

But the movement suffered a halt in early 2020 due to the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus pandemic, the thousands of arrests and a certain fatigue of the protesters.

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

The decision comes shortly after top Chinese lawmakers approved a sweeping plan that effectively ends open elections in Hong Kong.

China and Hong Kong's leaders say the moves are needed to restore stability to the finance hub.

Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, and the Basic Law was created under the handover agreement under the "one country, two systems" principle.

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