Seven pro-democracy figures – including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and “father of democracy” Martin Lee – have been found guilty of organising and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

Pro-democracy supporters. Photo: League of Social Democrats.

They were among nine high profile activists who were accused of organising and taking part in the assembly against perceived abuses of police power in August 2019. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and marched peacefully to Chater Road in Central.

Lai and Lee attended West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Thursday alongside 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.

Judge Amanda Jane Woodcock rejected the defence’s case who argued that the offences and their criminal sanctions “were too severe to be proportional and constitutional.”

Woodcock ruled that “unless the defendants are suggesting that the decision to prosecute was an abuse of the court’s process then it is not the function of the court to decide whether that decision per se is disproportionate.”

“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. File Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

The judge also rejected the defence’s claim that they were assisting with dispersing the crowd that day. “If the defendants were only there to assist with dispersal to ensure public safety and avoid overcrowding, then it does beggar belief they needed such a large banner that took so many of them to carry…” the judge wrote. “This intention was vocalised repeatedly and publicly days before the public meeting. It was only a dispersal plan in name, and the truth is it was a planned unauthorised assembly.”

Before the hearing resumed for the judge to hear mitigation from the defence, Leung Kwok-hung chanted “Shameful political prosecution,” “Hongkongers hang in there” and “Five demands, not one less.”

The prosecution asked the court to revoke bail to those found guilty, citing a previous unauthorised assembly case involving activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who were in detention before receiving their jail term. Priscilla Lam for the prosecution said the court must send a “deterrent message” to the public that maintaining law and order was important. She added the sentencing should “adequately reflect the criminality of the case.”

Figo Chan (centre). Photo: League of Social Democrats.

However, Woodcock granted bail to five defendants but amended the conditions to bar them from leaving Hong Kong. They were also ordered to surrender all travel documents. Lai and Leung Kwok-hung continue to be remanded in custody for the national security case related to the 2020 primaries.

The group face up to five years in prison. Woodcock adjourned the mitigation and sentencing to April 16.

Supporters attend court

The judiciary reserved 18 seats for the defendants’ family and 145 tickets for the public to attend the hearing. Among those who came to support the defendants were Figo Chan of the Civil Human Rights Front, Rafael Wong and Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats, Leung Kwok-hung’s wife and activist Andy Chan.

Outside court, a representative from the pro-Beijing group Politihk Social Strategic called for a “life sentence” for media tycoon Lai, saying he was “definitely a traitor.”

Chan Po-ying – wife of activist Leung Kwok-hung told HKFP that the verdict was “expected.”

“We are obviously most concerned about the national security case. But he still has other [protest-related] cases which will be heard by the same judge, so we are not very optimistic about those cases.”

Leung has been detained since early March pending trial over “subversion” under the national security law.

Some of the democrats prosecuted over the mass demonstration on August 18, 2019. File Photo: Stand News.

In February, ex-lawmaker Au Nok-hin pleaded guilty to both unauthorised assembly charges in February, while Leung Yiu-chung admitted to knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

Au was said to have “formed the head” of the march, along with other suspects, and was accused of leading people to Central via a route that was opposed by police.

In mitigation, Paul Harris SC representing Leung Yiu-chung on Thursday, said he was a good citizen who devoted his entire life to public good. Harris cited Leung’s attempt to block protesters from storming the legislature on July 1, 2019. He said Leung had “exceptional civic spirit” and asked the court to give the defendant a “lenient penalty.”

Au remains in custody whilst Leung is on bail – both are awaiting sentencing.

Additional reporting: Kelly Ho. More to follow.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.