Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement suffered a heavy blow on Thursday when nine veteran activists were convicted over a massive rally in 2019.
Hong Kong District Court found seven democrats, including 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, guilty of organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly.
Other defendants include prominent barrister and former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng and veteran activists Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung-kwok-hung, Albert Ho, and Cyd Ho.
“We will continue the struggle,” said Lee Cheuk-yan on Thursday.
Two others, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, had previously pleaded guilty.
The activists were convicted for their involvement in a massive protest held on August 18, 2019, where nearly 1.7 million people marched against a proposed bill that would allow for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.
Martin Lee, often called Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” helped launch the former British colony’s largest opposition Democratic Party in the 1990s. He could be jailed for 12-18 months, according to some legal experts.
Media entrepreneur Lai was arrested in August after some 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid.
He has already been charged on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers and endangering national security.
Lai is one of several Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who have been charged under the recently approved national security law. The law was passed in June last year by pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong and is seen by many as a means of cracking down on dissent.
Exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law told DW from London that the convictions amounted to “political persecution.”
He believes that there is “a quite high” possibility that convictions will follow for 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists charged with subversion after participating in an election primary.
Convictions, such as those on Thursday, show that the rule of law in the territory “is all gone under the national security law. People’s freedom of expression and freedom of association are being annihilated.”