Lai, ex-lawmakers guilty of illegal assembly
A court in Hong Kong on Thursday found media tycoon Jimmy Lai and six former lawmakers guilty of organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly in Hong Kong in August 2019.
Those convicted also include 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee, who is also founder of the city’s Democratic Party. They face up to five years in prison. Two other former lawmakers charged in the same case had pleaded guilty earlier.
According to the ruling, six of the seven defendants convicted on Thursday, including Lee and Lai, carried a banner that criticized police and called for reforms as they left Victoria Park on August 18, 2019, and led a procession through the center of the city. The other defendant, Margaret Yee, joined them on the way and helped carry the banner.
Police had given permission for a rally at Victoria Park but had rejected an application from the organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, for the march.
Prosecutors accused the group of defying police instructions that day and encouraging crowds to march across Hong Kong’s main island, bringing traffic disruption.
District Judge AJ Woodcock indicated that she was inclined to go for a maximum jail sentence and said the fact the march was peaceful was no defense.
“It cannot be right for an offender to argue that although his act was unauthorized ... but because it was ultimately peaceful and there was no violence he should not be arrested, prosecuted or convicted,” she wrote.
Six of the nine defendants in the case have been released on bail on the condition they do not leave Hong Kong and they hand in all their travel documents. They are due back in court on April 16, where mitigation pleas will be heard before sentencing.
Lai, founder of Apple Daily and media group Next Digital of Hong Kong, is among those who remains jailed on other charges, including fraud and colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security under the national security law.
Meanwhile, four men involved in rioting or illegal assembly at the Hong Kong International Airport in 2019 were sentenced to imprisonment for 13 to 45 months by a local court on Wednesday.
Two of the men, who were earlier convicted of illegal assembly, were sentenced to 13 months in prison. The other two men, who had earlier pleaded guilty to rioting, were sentenced to 45 months in prison.
The judge said that the defendants’ behavior seriously affected the operation of the airport, the reputation of Hong Kong and the willingness of tourists to visit Hong Kong.