Some of the most prominent pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong appeared in court on Monday to face charges relating to anti-government protests, in a case that has drawn international attention and condemnation by Western politicians.
Veteran democrats and barristers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and serving lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung are among 15 well-known faces accused of organising and taking part in illegal assemblies on August 18, August 31, October 1 and October 20 last year.
Making up the rest of the list of defendants are former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists Cyd Ho, Albert Ho, Yeung Sum, Sin Chung-kai, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung, Au Nok-hin, Figo Chan, Richard Tsoi, Raphael Wong and Avery Ng.
Police arrested and charged all 15 on April 18.
When asked whether he understood the charges against him, Wong from the League of Social Democrats (LSD) told the court that he understood it was a "political prosecution".
Avery Ng, also from the LSD, said he understood the charges, but didn't know why only he and the 14 others were facing them when so many more people had joined the protests, while the group's Chan said he understood "Five demands, not one less".
The 15 did not need to enter any pleas. They were all released on bail and the case was adjourned until June 15, with a trial expected at the District Court.
As the activists walked out of the courtroom, members of the public clapped and chanted protest slogans.
Speaking to the media outside, Avery Ng said the charges they face are nothing compared to the "sacrifices" that young people in the city have made.
"Compared with many youth and the charges they are facing, ours are miniscule," he said.
August 18 had seen a massive rally on Hong Kong Island, while on August 31 there were clashes in multiple parts of the city, with the day ending with violent scenes as police raided Prince Edward MTR Station.
National Day protests erupted across the territory on October 1, with a teenager shot with a live round by police in Tsuen Wan, while October 20 saw a large unauthorised march in Kowloon and was the day a police water canon blasted the mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui with blue-dyed water.
The US and Britain, and some European politicians have condemned the charges against the 15, describing the prosecutions as the "biggest crackdown" to date on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.
The SAR government had responded to the criticism by saying the comments made were unfounded, irresponsible and ignorant.
Court bails 15 pro-democracy figureheads
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