09/01/2021, 13.53
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Hong Kong court hands 7 democracy activists up to 16 months in prison for 2019 protests

All accused of organizing and taking part in a banned demonstration. Six of those convicted are already serving jail time. League of Social Democrats: until recently, fines were imposed for these offenses. Carrie Lam denies repression, critics point to facts telling a different story.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The city's district court today sentenced seven democracy activists to between 11 and 16 months in prison. Judge Amanda Woodcock found them guilty of organizing and taking part in an unauthorized procession on October 20, 2019, at the height of anti-government protests by the Democratic Front. The demonstration had been attended by thousands of people.

The conviction hit former parliamentarians Cyd Ho, Albert Ho, Yeung Sum, and "long hair" Leung Kwok-hung; guilty verdicts were also handed to Avery Ng and Raphael Wong of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), and Figo Chan, coordinator of the Civil Human Rights Front. All had pleaded guilty. Apart from Wong, the other six defendants are already in prison serving other sentences. The court ruled that the sentences for them will not be cumulative.

In delivering the verdict, Woodcock explained that Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-Constitution) and the Bill of Rights guarantee citizens freedom of assembly, demonstration and protest. The judge stressed, however, that these prerogatives are not absolute, but subject to restrictions "in the interest of public order." The main charge against the convicted is that they did not take measures to prevent disorder during the demonstration.

Four LSD members held a banner that read “peaceful demonstrations are innocent, shame to political prosecution” outside the courthouse.  As Hong Kong Free Press reports, active social democrats point out that sentences for unauthorized demonstrations have become heavier: previously they were limited to a fine or a period of community service.

In a press release, Avery Ng criticizes the continued "reinterpretation" of existing rules. He questions whether they serve to protect the freedoms of citizens or "the power of the already powerful."

Yesterday, Carrie Lam dismissed allegations that the executive she leads is using the National Security Act to crack down on civil society. For critics, the facts tell a different story. Since the launch of the draconian measure sought by Beijing 14 months ago, police have arrested 143 people considered a threat to national security; 84 of them have been charged. Authorities forced the closure of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper founded by Catholic tycoon Jimmy Lai, which has been under arrest for months. Initium, another independent publication, moved its headquarters to Singapore.

Targeted by the government, historic organizations such as the Teachers Union and the Civil Human Rights Front have recently disbanded. The former was the city's largest trade union, the latter the leading Democratic coalition.

Indictments have also come in for student leaders, accused of fomenting terrorism. In Legco, the city parliament, there is now only one representative not aligned with Beijing. Free voices such as journalist Steve Vines and artist Kacey Wong have fled the city.

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