CHINA Hong Kong, anti-extradition movement: seven democracy leaders condemned

Several veteran Hong Kong activists convicted over huge anti-Beijing rally

China introduced a controversial security bill to Hong Kong previous year after continuous mass protests.

The prosecution of veteran pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong has been held up by their supporters as a severe assault on the freedom of speech and other civil liberties that once were core to the city's identity.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, however, say the security law and electoral reforms are needed to restore stability and to resolve "deep-seated" problems, and that human rights will be safeguarded.

Those condemned include tycoon Jimmy Lai and the "father of democracy" Martin Lee, one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

China had pledged to allow the city to retain freedoms not permitted elsewhere in the country for 50 years when it took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997, but its recent steps are seen as a betrayal.

Shortly before entering court Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, told media there was a "difficult situation in Hong Kong", and labeled their prosecution as political retaliation. just before entering court. They could face up to 10 years in prison though their sentences are likely to be shorter than that.

Lai, the media tycoon, has been charged in a separate national security case for allegedly lobbying for American sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials. Two other ex-legislators involved in the same case - Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-Chung - pleaded guilty before the trial began.

Lai is one of several Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who have been charged under the recently approved national security law.

"In a very hard situation in Hong Kong, the political retaliation is on us", said Lee Cheuk-yan, speaking before the verdict.

On Thursday morning, some of his supporters gathered near the court with banners denouncing "political repression".

"We will still march on no matter what lies in the future".

The group was prosecuted for organising an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019, one of the biggest in Hong Kong that year as people took to the streets for seven straight months calling for democracy and greater police accountability.

Organisers claimed 1.7 million people turned out - nearly one in four Hong Kong residents - though that number was hard to independently verify.

Seven were found guilty of organising and knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly.

British lawyer David Perry, hired by the Hong Kong government to be the lead prosecutor, stepped down following withering criticism from both the United Kingdom government and British legal bodies over his decision to take the job.

In her verdict, district Judge AJ Woodcock indicated that she was inclined to go for a maximum jail sentence and said the fact the march was peaceful was no defence.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, now in custody after his arrest under Beijing's new national security law, was among those convicted.

But the movement suffered a halt in early 2020 due to the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus pandemic, the thousands of arrests and a certain fatigue of the protesters.

Next Digital publishes Apple Daily, a well-read tabloid which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.

"We are getting very close to the system of China but not yet", he said.

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