HONG KONG (AP) — Seven of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy advocates had part of their convictions quashed Monday over their roles in one of the biggest pro-democracy protests in 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 lawmakers, including barrister Margaret Ng, had been found guilty of organizing and participating an unauthorized assembly.
Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung and Cyd Ho were jailed between eight and 18 months. Martin Lee, an octogenarian nicknamed the city’s “Father of Democracy,” Ng and Albert Ho were given suspended jail sentences.
Their convictions two years ago and their sentences were widely seen as another blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement under an unprecedented crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities.
Judge Andrew Macrae said he and other judges of the Court of Appeal unanimously quashed their convictions over the charge of organizing an unauthorized assembly. But their convictions over taking part in an unauthorized assembly were upheld.
Hence, the four activists who served their jail terms in prison have had part of their sentences in the case quashed, he said.
Macrae and his colleagues said in a written judgment that an organizer must take some responsibility for or do something active to plan and arrange an action.
“An inference that because they were at the front of the procession, they must have organized it … is not a realistic or suitable substitute for evidence that they were involved in its organization,” the judgment said.
All appellants have served out their sentences for this case. But Lai, Leung, Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan remained in custody as they were also charged under a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 following the massive protests.
Ng, Martin Lee, Lee Cheuk-yan and Ho were in the courtroom to hear the judges’ decision. Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan appeared tanned and spirited.
After the ruling, Ng told reporters at the entrance of the court building that they would have to study the judgment before making further comments and actions.
The charges involved a rally in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people onto Hong Kong’s streets to call for greater police accountability and democracy. The march was relatively peaceful, compared to other protests that often morphed into violent clashes between police and protesters that year.
The 2019 movement was the city’s most concerted challenge to the Hong Kong government since the former British colony returned to China’s rule in 1997.
The pro-democracy movement waned with the arrests and exiles of democracy activists, the COVID-19 pandemic and the national security law.