Two former Hong Kong lawmakers pleaded guilty on Tuesday to protest-related charges punishable by up to five years in prison. They, and seven other pro-democracy figures – including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and “father of democracy” Martin Lee – appeared in court over a mass demonstration in August 2019.
At West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung admitted charges linked to an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019. It took place during the early months of the anti-extradition bill protests which shook the city that year and often descended into violence.
The nine are accused of organising and taking part in the assembly, which saw thousands of demonstrators gathering in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and marching to Chater Road in Central in a peaceful protest against what they saw as police abuse of power.
Au pleaded guilty to both charges, while Leung Yiu-chung admitted taking part in an unauthorised assembly. Prosecutors will not proceed with the other charge against him.
Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, former Democratic Party chair Albert Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and ex-legislator Cyd Ho all denied the charges. When pleading to the offence of organising an unauthorised assembly, Lee Cheuk-yan said: “Not guilty. Object to political prosecution.”
Prosecutors said Au had called on people to join a “water flow” procession despite police objections. The ousted lawmaker was said to have “formed the head” of the marchers along with other suspects and to have directed protesters to Central via a route that was opposed by police.
Au, they said, used a loudhailer to repeatedly tell the crowd “Jam-pack Victoria Park” and led them in a chant of “I have the right to march, police permission is not required.”
The court adjourned mitigation and sentencing for Au and Leung Yiu-chung until March 22, when the trial of the other seven is expected to have ended. The pair were released on bail.
Prosecutors did not open the case against the seven after lawyers for Albert Ho and Martin Lee told the court they were awaiting a report from British-based experts on crowd control, crowd psychology and police operations which was expected later in the afternoon.
Judge Amanda Woodcock adjourned the trial to Wednesday morning. All of them are on bail except for Jimmy Lai, who is in custody awaiting trial for other alleged offences.
Hong Kong’s Department of Justice originally intended to hire British barrister and Queen’s Counsel David Perry as lead prosecutor. He withdrew from the case last month citing “growing pressure and criticism from the UK community,” days after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Perry as “mercenary” for accepting the case against the high-profile democrats.