Beijing (Brussels Morning) A group of seven prominent Hong Kong democrats was found guilty of unauthorised assembly by a district court in a further suppression of the democracy movement in the former British colony, Reuters reports.
The verdict is the first in what is expected to be a wave of similar rulings after more than 100 pro-democracy politicians and activists were arrested last year under the controversial National Security Law, part of the heavy-handed clampdown on the territory’s attempts to retain a form of independence from Beijing rule.
Among those found guilty on Thursday were the 82-year old attorney Martin Lee and the prominent 72-year old media tycoon Jimmy Lai. The district court judge Amanda Woodcock found all seven defendants guilty on two counts – organising an unauthorised assembly, and knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly.
The group was released on bail pending sentencing, which is scheduled for 16 April. According to some legal experts, the verdict is likely to will likely result in prison sentences of 12-to-15 months, against a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.
Western governments have condemned the arrests of Lee, co-founder of the largest opposition Democratic Party in the 90s, and other prominent figures. At least 47 other high-profile democratic campaigners are facing charges of subversion and are being held in detention. Others have already pleaded guilty.
No preferential treatment
The UK has accused Beijing of breaching the joint Sino-British Declaration, which was used as a basis for transferring control of Hong Kong from the UK to China. The EU has called for the release of all democrats, claiming that the National Security Law is being used to stifle political pluralism.
On Wednesday, the US declared that Hong Kong no longer warranted preferential treatment under the Hong Kong Policy Act, a law that allowed Washington to maintain a special relationship with the former territory, separate from that of mainland China.