Several of the 10 prominent Hong Kong democrats who face possible prison terms for organising a banned protest on China’s National Day in 2019 have told a judge they believe they did nothing wrong.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s wife (right) was seen at the District Court on Monday. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Judge Amanda Woodcock heard mitigation pleas from the 10 at the Wan Chai District Court on Monday. They pleaded guilty last Tuesday to organising an unauthorised assembly on October 1 two years ago, when thousands of protesters took to the streets in defiance of a police ban.

Civil Human Rights Front convenor Figo Chan, former Democratic Party chairmen Albert Ho and Yeung Sum, League of Social Democrats’ Avery Ng, ex-lawmaker Sin Chung-kai and Richard Tsoi of the Hong Kong Alliance have been remanded in custody since last Tuesday following their guilty pleas.

Wan Chai Law Courts. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan and former legislators “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Cyd Ho were already behind bars, serving jail terms over a protest on August 18, 2019. Lai and Leung are also facing trial under the national security law.

Several defence counsel read out their clients’ personal submissions in court on Monday while Chan, who has no lawyer, delivered his mitigation plea personally. The 10 are due to be sentenced on Friday.

Civil disobedience

“If the people had the legal right to make their voices heard, why would the defendants and I need to break the law in civil disobedience and stand before this court to be judged?” said Chan, the protest group convener.

“We have made the choice of civil disobedience, and have followed through with our ideals to plead guilty. But I will not beg for forgiveness.”

Leung, a former lawmaker in the League of Social Democrats, said in a written statement read out by his counsel that organising the unauthorised National Day rally was a protest against the authorities’ unreasonable suppression of demonstrations.

“I plead guilty, but I do not admit wrongdoing,” he wrote. “I do not admit to wrongdoing because I have no regrets, and there is nothing wrong to admit to.”

‘A moving animal’

Lawyers for other democrats in the group, including Lee, Cyd Ho and Leung, submitted that the defendants should be recognised for their life in public service as veteran lawmakers. They also said the defendants should not be penalised for violence that erupted later in the day or elsewhere in Hong Kong since they had repeatedly called upon people to protest peacefully.

Judge Woodcock, however, questioned the submission by Leung’s counsel Pun Hei, on whether it was possible to divide the protest procession into parts which were peaceful from parts that were violent. “The procession is a moving animal,” she said.

Spectators in the public gallery applauded after the personal statements were delivered.

A protest regular Grandma Wong was seen at the District Court on Monday. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The democrats waved at family members who shouted the democrats’ names as the ten streamed into the dock. Amidst the commotion, Ng made a “victory” hand sign.

“Liverpool got third place! Manchester United got second!” a member of the public shouted, in an effort to inform the defendants of the English Premier League football results.

As they filed out of the courtroom after proceedings ended, the defendants and members of the audience chanted protest slogans such as “Five demands, not one less” and “There are no rioters, only tyranny.”

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.