Hong Kong barrister Margaret Ng, who is among seven democrats convicted of organising and participating in an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019, told a court on Friday that she had to “stand up for” the people of Hong Kong as her co-defendants await sentencing.
District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock heard mitigation pleas from the group at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Friday morning. The case also involves media mogul Jimmy Lai, “father of democracy” Martin Lee, veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and former legislators Albert Ho and Cyd Ho.
Woodcock is set to sentence the seven – who are accused offences which allegedly took place in the early months of the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019 – at 3.15 pm. Two other co-defendants and ex-lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who admitted wrongdoing, will also face sentencing on Tuesday afternoon.
In mitigation, Ng discharged her lawyer to address the court personally. In reading out her eight-page statement from the defendants’ dock, the 73-year-old said: “There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.”
The barrister, who served in the legislature as a representative of the legal sector between 2005 and 2012, went on to say that she learned the rule of law had to be defended in court and the Legislative Council, as well as in the streets and the community.
“When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them,” she said.
Ng described Hongkongers as “peace-loving and well-disciplined.” She said in the demonstration the present trial concerned, the participants – estimated be over 1.7 million by the organisers – showed “resolute patience” and “perseverance.” The event was “entirely peaceful and orderly” Ng said, adding the crowd “kept faith with the organisers who enjoined them to be ‘peaceful, rational and non-violent’.”
“At such times we cannot be seen to abandon the people but must stand side by side with them, in the hope peace may prevail,” she said.
In concluding her statement, Ng adapted a saying by Thomas More, whom she described as the patron saint of the legal profession: “I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first. For the law must serve the people, not the people the law.”
There was a round of applause inside the courtroom when Ng finished her speech.
Other defence lawyers argued the public procession in question was peaceful and orderly and urged Woodcock to consider alternatives to a jail sentence. Senior counsel Graham Harris, who represented Martin Lee and Albert Ho, said the court should not send people to prison unless “there are no other ways.”
Harris told the court that Lee and Ho were men who “do not advocate the use of violence.” He said they disapproved violence in the context of protest as it would be “counterproductive,” because it may “undermine the integrity of the original dignified protest.”
Harris went on to say that the pair have “impeccable character” and have devoted large portions of their lives to serving the public good.
“Justice does not have to be served by locking up two elderly (people) who devoted their lives to serving the community,” Harris said.
‘Peaceful assembly is not a crime’
Ahead of the hearing, dozens of citizens lined up outside the court to show their support. Former lawmaker, Emily Lau, and five representatives from foreign consulates were among those queuing up outside court. Lau told HKFP that she was “very concerned” about her colleagues.
“We hope that they will get a fair and just treatment from the Hong Kong judiciary,” said Lau. “Many people are very alarmed and very concerned. We will wait to find out.”
Citizens who attended the hearing waved and shouted “add oil” at the seven defendants. In response, Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai put his thumb up while activist Leung Kwok-hung chanted “Peaceful assembly is not a crime.” Both Lai and Leung were in custody pending trial over separate national security charges.
More members of the public were able to sit inside the courtroom as the Judiciary lifted the Covid-19 social distancing measures last week. Previously, reporters and citizens had to keep one seat apart.
A woman in wheelchair also sobbed as she told Martin Lee: “Barrister Martin Lee, thank you.”
Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho, and Albert Ho spoke to the press outside the court before their mitigation. Lee said that “while the situation now is very dark, but I believe that Hong Kong people will get through this together.”
Former lawmaker Cyd Ho said that “Hong Kong people’s conscience cannot be imprisoned” even if she was put behind bars.
Activist “Grandma Wong” was also outside the court supporting the democrats pending sentencing, with a sign that read: “Defeating Communist thieves, ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has died, the rule of law has died.”
Pro-establishment protesters from the Politihk Social Strategic, who told HKFP that they were “a concern group against the opposite party,” said that they were at the court to “witness the imprisonment of the traitors of Hong Kong.”