Seven of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy advocates were convicted on Monday in part for their role in one of the biggest pro-democracy protests of 2019.
Jimmy Lai, founder of the now defunct Apple Daily newspaper; Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the city’s Democratic Party; and five former pro-democracy MPs, including lawyer Margaret Ng, were found guilty of organizing and attending an unauthorized gathering.
Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung and Cyd Ho were sentenced to between eight and 18 months in prison. Martin Lee, an octogenarian nicknamed the city’s “father of democracy,” Ng and Albert Ho were sentenced to suspended prison terms.
Their convictions two years ago and their sentences were widely seen as another blow to the city’s flagging pro-democracy movement in the face of unprecedented repression by authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Judge Andrew Macrae said he and other appeals court judges unanimously vacated their convictions on charges of organizing an unauthorized gathering. However, her conviction for attending an unauthorized meeting was upheld.
All of the appellants have served their sentences in this case. But Lai, Leung, Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan remained in detention as they were also charged under a national security law Beijing enacted in 2020 following the massive protests.
The charges concerned a rally in August 2019 when an estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to call for more police accountability and democracy. The march was relatively peaceful compared to other protests this year, which often culminated in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The 2019 move was the city’s most concerted challenge to the Hong Kong government since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The pro-democracy movement waned with the arrests and banishments of democracy activists, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the national security law.