Nine veterans of the Hong Kong opposition were found guilty on Thursday of organizing one of the biggest protests of 2019. This decision once again illustrates the relentless crackdown underway in the Chinese region.
Among the nine are some of the most respected figures in the struggle for freedoms in the former British colony, often apostles of non-violence who have been mobilized for decades for the establishment of true universal suffrage. . In vain.
One of the most famous is the 82-year-old lawyer Martin Lee, who before the handover in 1997 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 draconian national security law that Beijing imposed in June.
Others are figures from the Civil Front for Human Rights (CHRF), a coalition that organized the biggest protests in 2019, when the city experienced its worst political crisis since the handover in 1997.
‘We will never stop’
The Hong Kong District Court found seven guilty of organizing and participating in an illegal gathering. The other two had pleaded guilty.
The nine, who face five years in prison, will face their sentence on April 16. The defendants who are not detained were left free, on condition that they return their passports.
“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.’
On Thursday, some of their supporters gathered near the court, holding signs denouncing ‘political repression’. The case is emblematic of the current climate in the former British colony given the scale of the demonstration to which it relates.
On August 18, 2019, for hours, a huge procession peacefully walked the streets of central Hong Kong Island. Organizers had reported 1.7 million demonstrators, 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 by human rights associations.
‘Serious traffic disruption’
British lawyer David Perry, who had been chosen by the Hong Kong government to lead the indictment against the nine, had given up doing so following strong criticism from London and British legal organizations.
One of the angles of attack of the prosecution was to say that this illegal demonstration had disrupted car traffic in the city. And in her verdict, Justice AJ Woodcock warned that she was inclined to impose the maximum sentence, arguing that the peaceful nature of the parade was not an admissible excuse.
“This unauthorized public gathering did not take place without reprehensible behavior,” reads his decision. ‘The considerations of public order are not confined only to outbursts of violence but also to serious disruptions to traffic as had been the case.’
The popularity of the 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 in early 2020 under the cumulative effect of the assembly restrictions taken. against the coronavirus 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. And in 2020, the Chinese authorities initiated a strong takeover of Hong Kong, notably through the law on national security.
No demonstration is now possible in the city, and the authorities have, on the pretext of the coronavirus, 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 promulgated Tuesday by Beijing which completely marginalizes the parliamentary opposition.
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