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Illustration by Security Management

Pro-Democracy Leaders Found Guilty in Hong Kong

Seven of Hong Kong’s democracy leaders were convicted on 1 April for their involvement in organizing and participating in 2019 anti-government protests. 

“The verdict was the latest blow to the flagging democracy movement as the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing tighten the screws in their efforts to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory,” the Associated Press reported.  

Although Hong Kong previously enjoyed certain political freedoms that were lacking throughout the rest of China, recent measures were introduced which led pro-democracy advocates to fear that the territory will be pushed into becoming the same as the mainland. 

The convictions of unlawful assembly were handed down in the West Kowloon Court on Thursday to Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party; Jimmy Lai, owner of the Apple Daily tabloid; and five former pro-democracy legislators. Two other defendants, also former legislators, submitted guilty pleas in February. The defendants participated in a rally and an unapproved march in August 2019 where roughly 1.7 million people protested a bill that would permit suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to the mainland for a trial, bypassing the city’s own justice system.

According to news reports, a rally at Victoria Park was approved by police, however authorities rejected an application for the march. 

During the march, six of the defendants bore a banner criticizing police and demanding reforms, while the other defendant joined in the march and helped carry the banner. The guilty verdict means that these seven may receive a sentence of up to five years in prison. Their next scheduled court appearance is slated for 16 April, when the defendants can present mitigation pleas to try to reduce their respective sentences.  

Although the bill was ultimately scrapped, protesters continued to rally against the mainland. Ultimately, Beijing passed a national security law in 2020, which has led to incarceration or exile of government criticsOther protests against the vague language of the law—such as the definitions of criminal activity linked to secession, subversion, and terrorismhave resulted in additional charges for pro-democracy advocates.  

Mainland China also diminished Hong Kong’s democratic efforts on 30 March by reducing the number of elected seats in the territory’s legislature. Although the legislature will grow from 70 to 90 seats, only 20 will be ones the public can elect a candidate to—a decrease from 35 seats.