The District Court on Thursday convicted seven prominent pro-democracy activists of organising and taking part in an unlawful assembly over their involvement in one of the biggest anti-government protests of 2019.
Founding chairman of the Democratic Party Martin Lee, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and former lawmakers Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Leung Kwok-hung had all denied the charges against them.
Former pro-democracy politician Au Nok-hin, had earlier pleaded guilty to organising and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly, while a ninth defendant in the case, former lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal assembly.
Organisers of the protest on August 18, 2019, said 1.7 million people took part, to voice their opposition to the later-shelved extradition bill.
In a written verdict, Judge Amanda Woodcock noted that police did not object to the Civil Human Rights Front’s application to hold a rally at Victoria Park on the day in question.
But the force had rejected the group's request to march to Central and for another rally to be held there – something that happened in any case.
During the trial, defence lawyers had argued that the veteran activists were only taking part in the procession to help disperse the crowd.
But Woodcock dismissed this suggestion.
She noted that some of the defendants were among those carrying a huge banner at the front of the march.
“I am sure this public procession was not about dispersal of crowds. That was a description used to defy the law and circumvent the ban,” she said in her ruling.
“This intention was vocalised repeatedly and publicly days before the public meeting. It was only a dispersal plan in name and the truth is, it was a planned unauthorised assembly.”
The defence also said police had deliberately refrained from undertaking any crowd control management on the day, which the force disputed during the hearing.
One officer had told the court that they made a decision not to be too conspicuous near Victoria Park, so as to avoid provoking the protesters.
The judge said whether or not the police had made a mistake in their strategy was irrelevant to the charges.
She granted bail to six of the defendants, on conditions that include a ban on travelling outside Hong Kong. The defendants also have to surrender all travel documents.
Leung Kwok-hung, Jimmy Lai and Au Nok-hin were held in custody in relation to other cases.
The judge will hear mitigation pleas on April 16 before passing sentence.
Last updated: 2021-04-01 HKT 12:39