It is a decision that illustrates the relentless crackdown underway in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Nine opposition veterans were convicted on Thursday 1is April, of the organization of a rally on August 18, 2019, which had been one of the largest protests in seven months of protest.
Among them are some of the most respected figures in the struggle for freedoms in this territory, often apostles of non-violence who have been mobilized for decades for the establishment of genuine universal suffrage. One of the most famous is the 82-year-old lawyer Martin Lee, founder of the Democratic Party (HKDP) and often referred to as “the father of the Hong Kong democratic movement”. Before the handover, in 1997, he was chosen by Beijing to draft the Basic Law, which serves as a mini-constitution in the semi-autonomous region.
Also on trial were ex-opposition MP and lawyer Margaret Ng, 73, media mogul Jimmy Lai and ex-MP Leung Kwok-hung, known by the nickname “Long Hair”. The latter two are currently in pre-trial detention amid separate prosecutions under the National Security Law that Beijing imposed at the end of June 2020.
The others are leading figures of the Civil Front for Human Rights (CHRF), the coalition that organized the biggest protests in 2019, when the city experienced its worst political crisis since the handover, with actions and almost daily mobilizations. On Thursday morning, a few of their supporters gathered near the courthouse, holding signs denouncing the “Political repression”.
The Hong Kong District Court found seven guilty of organizing and participating in an illegal gathering. The other two had pleaded guilty. They face up to five years in prison. It is not known when the sentences will be handed down. “We are very proud, even if we have to go to jail for this”former MP and union leader Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters. “Whatever the future holds, we will never stop marching. “
An emblematic affair of the current atmosphere
The case is particularly emblematic of the climate which reigns in the former British colony since it concerns the organization of an unauthorized gathering. Organizers had reported 1.7 million demonstrators that day, which would represent nearly one in four Hong Kongers. This figure could not be verified independently. The use by the authorities of the qualification of“Organization and participation in an unauthorized assembly” has long been denounced in Hong Kong by human rights associations.
And British lawyer David Perry, who had been chosen by the Hong Kong government to lead the indictment against the nine veterans, had given up doing so due to strong criticism from London and British legal organizations. One of the angles of attack of the prosecution was to say that these nine people had defied the ban on demonstrations, which had disrupted car traffic in the city. And, in her verdict, Justice AJ Woodcock warned that she was inclined to impose the maximum sentence and suggested that the peaceful nature of the protest was not a valid excuse.
The popularity of the popular protest was reflected in the ballot box by a triumph of the opposition in the local elections of November 2019. But the movement had suffered a brutal halt at the beginning of 2020 under the cumulative effect of the restrictions of rally taken against the Covid-19 epidemic and thousands of arrests, but also a certain fatigue of the demonstrators. With the exception of the abandonment of the controversial extradition law which had triggered the protest, the demonstrators had achieved nothing.
In 2020, the Chinese authorities initiated a strong takeover of the region, notably through the law on national security. No demonstration is now possible in the city and the authorities have, on the pretext of the epidemic, postponed for a year the legislative elections where the opposition had every chance of seeing the popularity of its fight reinforced.
New nail in the coffin of the Hong Kong exception, the reform of the local electoral system that China promulgated on Tuesday and which will have the consequence of totally marginalizing the opposition to the Legislative Council (LegCo, the Hong Kong Parliament).
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