HONG KONG—A Hong Kong court found seven prominent pro-democracy figures guilty on Thursday of “unauthorized assembly,” including barrister Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the latest blow to the city’s beleaguered democracy movement.
The group were accused of taking part in an approved assembly on Aug. 18, 2019, opposing the pro-Beijing government’s extradition bill that later became “unauthorized” when it turned into a mass protest. Millions of Hongkongers took to the streets of the financial hub demanding Beijing stay out of local politics.
Lee, often referred to as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” helped launch the city’s largest opposition Democratic Party in the 1990s. The 82-year-old could be jailed for 12-18 months, according to some legal experts.
Lee, Lai, and five other defendants, including prominent barrister Margaret Ng and veteran lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung-kwok-hung, Albert Ho, Cyd Ho, all pleaded not guilty.
Previously, two other defendants—former pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung—had pleaded guilty to organizing and taking part in an “unauthorized assembly.”
Ahead of the trial, supporters and some of the defendants gathered outside the court, shouting “Oppose political persecution” and “Five demands, not one less,” in reference to demands by democracy supporters that include amnesty for those arrested in the protests as well as universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous territory.
“So on this day, in a very difficult situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us,” Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants, said ahead of the court session.
“We will still march on no matter what lies in the future. We believe in the people of Hong Kong, in our brothers and sisters in our struggle, and the victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent,” he said.
During the trial, defence lawyers argued that freedom of assembly is a constitutional right in Hong Kong, and noted that police had approved the peaceful demonstration in the city’s downtown Victoria Park, which grew into what the government called an “unauthorized” march as numbers swelled into the hundreds of thousands.
Sentencing will be delivered at a later date.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.