Prominent figures of Hong Kong’s democracy movement were on Friday jailed for between eight and 18 months over their roles in a peaceful public procession that took place in August 2019, during months-long protests against the government’s extradition bill.
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, 73, and former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, were sentenced to one year in prison, in a ruling passed by Judge Amanda Woodcock at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.
Former lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Cyd Ho, 66, received jail terms of 18 months and eight months, respectively.
Barrister Margaret Ng, 73, and solicitor Albert Ho, 69, both former legislators as well, were given one-year sentences suspended for two years. The city’s “Father of Democracy,” senior counsel and former lawmaker Martin Lee, 82, was handed 11 months suspended for two years.
All seven were on April 1 found guilty by Woodcock of two charges, namely organizing and knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly, after trial in the District Court.
Two more defendants, pro-democracy politician Au Nok-hin, 33, and former lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, 67, had pleaded guilty to, respectively, organizing and knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly, and participating in an unauthorized assembly. Au was jailed for 10 months, while Leung received an eight-month sentence suspended for one year.
All nine violated the Public Order Ordinance in relation to an Aug. 18, 2019, march that was held by the Civil Human Rights Front on Hong Kong Island.
The police had withheld approval for the event by declining to issue a letter of no objection to the organizers’ application. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people turned out on the streets under torrential rain to oppose the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
On Friday morning, the judge heard the mitigation submissions of each defendant before handing down the sentences.
Senior counsel Audrey Eu, representing Lai, told the court that a case of unauthorized assembly outside police headquarters in Wan Chai in June 2019, which prosecutors had cited for sentencing reference, was different from the Aug. 18 case of the same year. The latter protest did not involve violence or disruption of social peace, she said.
According to sentencing guidelines of the Court of Appeal, a non-custodial penalty could be an option for consideration even if minor violence was involved, she noted.
Eu said that the scale of the Aug. 18 protest was huge because of participation calls by the Civil Human Rights Front; however, Lai was not a member of the front, nor was he playing any leading role. He did not join any press conference or make any public remarks or participation appeals about the event in advance, she added.
Lai only attended the demonstration in his personal capacity for more than an hour, during which he gave no comments. It would be a mistake to make him take responsibility for the large turnout, she said.
Eu also pointed out that the day’s rally took place in a very peaceful and rational manner. The police force did not take any action, such as issuing warnings or arresting people.
She concluded that Lai was only exercising his constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully and was not out to seek personal benefits in doing so. A sentence of immediate custody would be totally out of proportion with his circumstances, she said.
Senior counsel Philip Dykes, for Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho, presented the duo’s past contributions to public service in his mitigation pleas on their behalf.
Lee Cheuk-yan served Hongkongers for two decades in his roles as a legislator, which began in 1995, and as a unionist for labor rights, Dykes told the court. Cyd Ho first won election to the Legislative Council in 1998 and was reelected in 2008. She had focused on education, sexual minorities and women’s issues over the years, the lawyer added.
In the Aug. 18 protest, both defendants had participated in a calm and safe manner, with an eye to safely evacuating people on site, Dykes told the court.
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