Hong Kong | Activists plead guilty to joining democracy rally

Lee Cheuk-yan (left)

Three veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including well-known publisher Jimmy Lai, pleaded guilty yesterday to taking part in an unauthorized rally that led to violence between police and participants. The charges carry prison terms of up to five years.
Lee Cheuk-yan, an ex-legislator, and Yeng Sum, a former chairman of the Democratic Party, were released on bail. Lai was returned to jail as he is already being held on other charges related to his outspoken opposition to China’s crackdown on civil liberties in the former British colony.
Walking out of the courthouse in Wanchai district, Lee said that despite pleading guilty, he and the others saw no fault in their actions.
“Today we plead guilty to the charges, but we have done no wrong. This is an act of civil disobedience. We want to reclaim our right to demonstration and we affirm the right of people, that we have the right to come out to march,” Lee said.
“And we believe that history will absolve us, because we believe that any political progress, and the progress, and rights of the people, have to be reclaimed by the people, by exercising their rights to come out to march,” Lee said.
The court was shown footage of the three at the Aug. 31, 2019, event that led to clashes in various parts of the cramped city of more than 7 million that was being roiled by anti-government protests at the time.
The pleas appear to be another blow against the opposition movement after seven of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates, including Lai and an 82-year-old veteran of the movement, were convicted last Thursday for organizing and participating in a march during the 2019 protest movement.
The governments in Hong Kong and Beijing have been relentlessly pursuing opposition figures in order to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Hong Kong had enjoyed a vibrant political culture and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China during the decades it was a British colony. Beijing had pledged to allow the city to retain those freedoms for 50 years when it was handed control of the territory in 1997, but recently it has ushered in a series of measures that many fear are a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from cities on the mainland.
The 2019 protests were sparked by opposition to a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face long periods of detention, possible torture and unfair trials. While the legislation was eventually withdrawn, the protesters’ demands expanded to include calls for full democracy.
Beijing ignored them and responded by clamping down even harder, including imposing a draconian new national security law and changes last month that will significantly reduce the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature. As a result, most of Hong Kong’s outspoken activists are now in jail or in self-exile. MDT/AP

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