Nine veterans of the Hong Kong opposition were found guilty on Thursday of organizing one of the biggest protests of 2019, a move that 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. .
One of the most famous is 82-year-old lawyer Martin Lee, who before handover in 1997 was chosen by Beijing to draft the Basic Law, which serves as a mini-constitution in the semi-autonomous region.
The former opposition MP and lawyer Margaret Ng, 73, as well as media mogul Jimmy Lai and ex-MP Leung Kwok-hung, known by the nickname “Long Hair”, were also being prosecuted.
The latter two are currently in pre-trial detention due to separate prosecutions in the name of the draconian national security law that Beijing imposed in late 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 in 1997, with actions and almost daily mobilizations.
“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.
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 trade union leader Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters. “Whatever the future holds, we will never stop marching. “
Thursday morning, some of their supporters gathered near the court, holding signs denouncing “political repression”.
The case is particularly emblematic of the current climate in the former British colony since it concerns the organization of an unauthorized rally on August 18, 2019, which had been one of the largest demonstrations in seven months of protest.
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.
For hours, a huge procession had peacefully traversed the streets of central Hong Kong Island.
The use by the authorities of the qualification of “organizing and participating in an unauthorized assembly” has long been denounced in Hong Kong by human rights associations.
Disturbed automobile traffic
And 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 the nine 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 parade 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 sudden stop 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 scrapping of the controversial extradition law that had triggered the protest, the protesters got nothing.
And in 2020, the Chinese authorities initiated a strong takeover of their turbulent region, notably through the draconian law on national security imposed at the end of June.
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 that China promulgated on Tuesday, which will have the consequence of totally marginalizing the opposition to the Legislative Council (LegCo, the Hong Kong Parliament).