Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Leung Kwok-hung gestures as he arrives at a court in Hong Kong. AP
Two Hong Kong democracy activists pleaded guilty on Tuesday to organizing or participating in an illegal assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019.
The two were among nine prominent activists whose trial got under way in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The nine were arrested with several others in April last year in what was seen as a move to crack down on dissent.
The two who pleaded guilty were Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, both former members of the Hong Kong legislature. Au had been charged with both organizing and participating in an illegal assembly and Leung was charged with participating in an illegal assembly. The charges stemmed from an Aug.18, 2019, protest.
The other seven pleaded not guilty. They included Martin Lee, an 82-year-old veteran of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, and Jimmy Lai, a newspaper publisher who is being held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities.
Before the trial, supporters and several of the accused rallied outside the court. One banner read “Peaceful Assembly is Not a Crime; Shame on Political Prosecution.”
Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the nine defendants, said that the law has become an instrument of political suppression. “It is very sad to witness the deterioration of the rule of law in Hong Kong into a rule by fear,” he said.
Hong Kong traditionally holds the largest vigil in the world every year, although it was banned in 2020, with authorities giving the risk of spreading the coronavirus as the reason. The vigils have always been banned in mainland China.
The activists are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial primary poll last July aimed at selecting the strongest candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
If the defendants are denied bail, it would mean that most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures would be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
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