Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai and nine other veteran democrats pleaded guilty on Monday to their roles in an unauthorised mass protest on China’s National Day in 2019.

The 73-year-old Apple Daily founder is currently serving a 14-month jail term for two other protest-related convictions and also faces two charges under the national security law. He and the others appeared before Judge Amanda Woodcock in the District Court.

Lai admitted organising the mass demonstration on October 1, 2019, when thousands of Hongkongers marched on Hong Kong Island in defiance of police objections, at the height of pro-democracy protests that year.

Lai’s nine co-defendants pleaded guilty to the same charge. They are veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, former Democratic Party chairmen Albert Ho and Yeung Sum, protest coalition leader Figo Chan, activists Avery Ng and Richard Tsoi and former lawmakers Cyd Ho, Sin Chung-kai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

Chan, Lee, Leung and Albert Ho admitted a separate charge of inciting others on September 30, 2019 to take part in an authorised assembly the next day. Ng and Tsoi also pleaded guilty to knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly – while the prosecution decided to keep this charge on file and not to proceed with it for the eight other defendants.

(From left to right) Richard Tsoi, Figo Chan and Albert Ho speak to reporters outside the District Court on May 17, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The prosecution has already indicated it will ask the court to revoke bail for Chan, Albert Ho, Yeung, Ng, Sin and Tsoi.

The remaining defendants are all serving prison sentences for other offences.

‘No regrets’

Speaking to reporters before the trial, Albert Ho said it was “very likely” that he and other democrats would end up behind bars in this case. But the lawyer and ex-legislator said the sacrifice of their freedom was to “enable all people to speak up.”

Figo Chan (second from left ), Avery Ng (third from left) and members of the League of Social Democrats hold a banner that reads “release all political prisoners” outside the District Court on May 17, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“We have no regrets for that. We urge all citizens to stand calm and continue to speak out honestly and without fear,” Ho said.

Another former Democratic Party leader Yeung described their offences as “an act of civil disobedience,” saying they protested against the law because “the law was unfair.”

“[The government] limited the freedom for peaceful demonstration. It is a very important basic right… I hope people can stand firm,” he said.

‘Directed’ the route

In delivering the summary of facts, lead prosecutor Priscilia Lam said Chan, Lee, Leung and Albert Ho had urged members of the public to come out and join the procession despite an appeal board’s decision to uphold the police ban.

Albert Ho (left) and Sin Chung-kai (right) leave the District Court on May 17, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“D1 said this movement required a lot of people to participate so he urged Hong Kong people to come out to march with them together despite the legal risks,” the prosecution said, referring to Chan who applied to organise a public procession on behalf of the Civil Human Rights Front.

The prosecutor added: “D4 (Albert Ho) forewarned the public that those who join the public procession might get prosecuted as there was no letter of no objection issued by the police. However, he claimed the right to march was not dependent on the issuance of a letter of no objection.”

All the defendants were said to have directed the route of the procession that began in Causeway Bay and led the chanting of slogans including “Five demands, not one less” and “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

Senior Counsel Graham Harris leaves the District Court on May 17, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“[The participants] marched together in an orderly and organised formation under the direction and leadership of the defendants,” the summary of facts stated.

The prosecution said there were “riotous incidents” or a “breach of peace” as the demonstrators moved to Chater Road in Central, including vandalism, the setting up of roadblocks and the hurling of petrol bombs.

Woodcock said all defendants were convicted on their own pleas and the trial was adjourned to Tuesday morning for the court to continue viewing video clips prepared by the prosecution. It will also review the arrangements for six defendants who were granted bail on Monday.

Asked how they felt about getting another day of “freedom,” Chan and Ng said it was unexpected, as they thought the court would scrutinise the footage more swiftly. Ng guessed that he will likely be remanded into custody on Tuesday, after he was said to have breached a two-week suspended sentence over an unlawful assembly in 2016.

Figo Chan and Avery Ng. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Political prosecution today can be based on any reason… we urge Hongkongers to hang in there,” Ng, the secretary-general of the League of Social Democrats, said.

The court is set to hear pleas of mitigation next Monday, while the sentencing is scheduled for Friday, May 28.

Correction 16:50: A previous version of this article incorrected listed Richard Tsoi as a former lawmaker.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.