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7 Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted as China clamps down – NewsNet

HONG KONG (AP) — Seven of Hong Kong’s main pro-democracy advocates, together with a media tycoon and an 82-year-old veteran of the motion, have been convicted Thursday for organizing and collaborating in a march throughout huge anti-government protests in 2019 that triggered a crackdown on dissent.

The verdict was the newest blow to the flagging democracy motion because the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing tighten the screws of their efforts to exert larger management over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Hong Kong had loved a vibrant political tradition and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China throughout the a long time it was a British colony. Beijing had pledged to permit town to retain these freedoms for 50 years when it took the territory again in 1997, however not too long ago it has ushered in a collection of measures that many worry are a step nearer to creating Hong Kong no completely different from cities on the mainland.

Jimmy Lai, the proprietor of the outspoken Apple Daily tabloid; Martin Lee, the octogenarian founding father of town’s Democratic Party; and 5 former pro-democracy lawmakers have been discovered responsible in a ruling handed down by a district decide. They resist 5 years in jail. Two different former lawmakers charged in the identical case had pleaded responsible earlier.

According to the ruling, six of the seven defendants convicted on Thursday, together with Lee and Lai, carried a banner that criticized police and referred to as for reforms as they left Victoria Park on Aug. 18, 2019, and led a procession by way of the middle of town. The different defendant, Margaret Yee, joined them on the way in which and helped carry the banner.

Police had given permission for a rally at Victoria Park however had rejected an software from the organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, for the march.

Organizers estimated that 1.7 million individuals marched that day in opposition to a invoice that may have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial — a measure that infuriated Hong Kongers who cherish their distinct justice system and sparked months of demonstrations that typically led to violent clashes between protesters and police.

The laws was ultimately withdrawn, however the fuse was lit, and the protesters’ calls for expanded to incorporate requires full democracy. Instead, Beijing has responded by cracking down even tougher on dissent, together with a brand new nationwide safety legislation and modifications final month that may considerably cut back the variety of straight elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature. As a results of the clampdown, most of Hong Kong’s outspoken activists are actually in jail or in self-exile overseas.

“Their conviction is yet another example of Beijing eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms and failing to live up to its international obligations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated. The U.N. chief’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, stated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “has repeatedly said there should be no prisoners of conscience in the 21st century, and he’s always underscored the right to peaceful assembly.”

Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who was amongst these convicted Thursday, expressed disappointment within the verdict, saying he and his fellow residents have the constitutional proper to march. Lee is understood for serving to to prepare annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“We are firm that we have the right to assemble,” he stated. “It is our badge of honor to be in jail for walking together with the people of Hong Kong.”

Six of the 9 defendants within the case have been launched on bail on the situation they don’t depart Hong Kong and so they hand in all their journey paperwork. They are due again in courtroom on April 16, the place mitigation pleas can be heard earlier than sentencing.

Lai is amongst those that stay jailed on different prices, together with collusion with overseas forces to intervene within the metropolis’s affairs, a brand new crime underneath the nationwide safety legislation imposed on town in 2020 by the central authorities in Beijing.

The legislation has put a chill on dissent, all however quashing public protest, which was already diminished due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities have used the sweeping laws to arrest distinguished pro-democracy advocates. They have additionally detained activists on different prices, equivalent to collaborating in unlawful assemblies.

Lee, a former lawmaker, has been an advocate for human rights and democracy within the metropolis for the reason that former British colony was returned to China in 1997, although he disagreed with the violent techniques adopted by among the protesters in 2019.

Ahead of Thursday’s courtroom session, among the defendants and their supporters gathered exterior the courtroom, shouting “Oppose political persecution” and “Five demands, not one less,” in reference to calls for by democracy supporters that embody amnesty for these arrested within the protests in addition to common suffrage within the territory.

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