HK protests: Jimmy Lai, four ex-lawmakers jailed over 2019 march from Victoria Park

17-Apr-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has been jailed for 14 months for his role in two unauthorised assemblies that took place during 2019′s anti-government protests, while four former opposition lawmakers who joined one or both of the demonstrations were also sent to prison.

Democratic Party founding chair Martin Lee Chu-ming was given a suspended 11-month sentence in relation to the march on August 18, 2019.

Lai received a one-year jail sentence for the August 18 procession and eight months’ prison for another unauthorised march on August 31, with the two terms to run partly concurrently.

The tycoon, currently remanded in jail after being charged under the national security law, was escorted to West Kowloon Court on Friday to hear the sentence for his first-ever criminal conviction.

The Apple Daily founder, 73, and Lee, 82, were charged alongside seven former lawmakers with organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly by turning an approved gathering in Victoria Park, attended by some 300,000 people, into an illegal procession to Central on August 18.

The seven, most of whom are influential figures in the city’s opposition camp, were jailed for between eight and 18 months, respectively, for the first march but the sentences imposed on three of them were suspended.

One of the other accused, Au Nok-hin, pleaded guilty to both charges before the District Court trial in February, while another, Leung Yiu-chung, admitted to the participation offence. Au was jailed for 10 months while Leung received an eight-month prison term, suspended for two years.

The others were convicted of all charges on April 1 after the presiding judge dismissed a constitutional challenge against their prosecution.

They were Lai, Lee, unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, and lawyers Albert Ho Chun-yan and Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee. With the exception of Lai, all are former lawmakers.

Lee Cheuk-yan was jailed for one year, Leung Kwok-hung for 18 months and Cyd Ho for eight months. Albert Ho and Margaret Ng were both handed down one-year jail terms, suspended for two years.

In the second case, also heard by Judge Amanda Woodcock, Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and former lawmaker Yeung Sum pleaded guilty to taking part in the unauthorised rally on August 31, where more than 2,000 participants defied a police ban and marched from Wan Chai’s Southorn Playground to St John’s Cathedral in Central.

Lee Cheuk-yan was given a six-month prison term, also to run partly concurrently, meaning he will serve 14 months. Yeung received a suspended eight-month jail term.

Organisation and participation in unauthorised assemblies are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment under the Public Order Ordinance.

Friday’s sentencing hearing drew widespread attention from the media and public alike, prompting the judiciary to reserve an entire floor for a live broadcast of the proceedings and relax social-distancing measures to accommodate more attendees. Among those on hand were envoys from the United States, European Union, Germany, Canada, France, Netherlands and Sweden.

In the mitigation hearing on Friday morning before sentencing, Lai’s lawyer, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee SC, urged Woodcock to impose either a fine or suspended jail term on the tycoon, rather than a custodial sentence. She said Lai did no more than to exercise his legal right to protest, in a manner so peaceful no police intervention was required.

Despite being convicted of organising the August 18 procession, he should not be held liable for the large turnout and the subsequent disruption to traffic, as he had not made any appeal to the public to join the rally, and he had taken part in his personal capacity, she said.

Ng, speaking for herself in the dock, said her appearance on the streets was part of her “lifelong endeavour” to defend the rule of law, which included respecting the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“I had learned that the rule of law, not only has to be defended in court, or in [the Legislative Council], but also on the streets and in the community,” said the barrister, who represented the legal sector in Legco from 1995 to 2012.

“When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them, stand by them and stand up for them. Otherwise, all my pledges and promises would be just empty words.”

Ng also called the Public Order Ordinance offence for which she was convicted a “defect” in the law, saying she had advised the government, when she was still a legislator, to seriously consider reform to “avoid the law being disobeyed in desperation”.

“I urged the government not to shut out rational discussion for reform, because by its recalcitrance, the government was in danger of creating the very conditions which made civil disobedience inevitable and justifiable: something which none of us wished to see,” she added.

Graham Harris SC, for Martin Lee and Albert Ho, described his clients as two widely respected and admired lawyers, who had devoted most their lives for serving the public good as lawmakers, as well as committing themselves to the cause of democracy.

Harris highlighted the “distinguished” background of 82-year-old Lee, dubbed by some as the “Father of Democracy”, who was a draftsman of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and is Hong Kong’s most senior barrister.

“In a civilised community – and Hong Kong is a civilised community – we do not send people to prison unless there is absolutely no other way,” Harris said. “These are men with exceptional reputation and exceptional integrity. So I ask rhetorically with great respect: is this court seriously expecting to send these two men to prison?”


Category: Hong Kong

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