Veteran Hong Kong activists yesterday flashed protest salutes and accused authorities of “political persecution” as they went on trial for organizing one of the biggest democracy protests to engulf the territory in 2019.
The nine defendants include some of the territory’s most prominent pro-democracy campaigners, many of whom are non-violence advocates who have spent decades campaigning for universal suffrage.
Among them are Hong Kong Democratic Party founder Martin Lee (李柱銘), an 82-year-old barrister who was once chosen by Beijing to help write the Hong Kong Basic Law, and Margaret Ng (吳靄儀), a 73-year-old barrister and former opposition lawmaker.
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s new National Security Law, is also among those on trial.
Others are leading members of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the coalition that organized a series of huge rallies throughout 2019.
They each face up to five years in jail if convicted.
As they entered court, some of the activists flashed a three-finger salute, a symbol now used across the region to protest authoritarianism.
Others stood behind a banner which read: “Peaceful assembly is not a crime, shame on political persecution.”
The group is being prosecuted for organizing an unauthorized assembly on Aug. 18, 2019 — one of the biggest in Hong Kong that year as people took to the streets for seven months calling for democracy and greater police accountability.
Organizers estimated 1.7 million people turned out — almost one-quarter of Hong Kong residents — although that number was difficult to independently verify.
Those involved described it as the second-largest protest of 2019, with demonstrators marching peacefully for hours under a sea of umbrellas and thundery skies.
At the start of yesterday’s trial all except two defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Former lawmaker and CHRF convenor Au Nok-hin (區諾軒) pleaded guilty to two charges of organizing and taking part in an unlawful assembly, while former lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung (梁耀忠) pleaded guilty to taking part in the march, but not guilty to organizing it.
Protests in Hong Kong can only go ahead with the permission of authorities and rights groups have long criticized the use of unauthorized assembly prosecutions.
In their opening statement, prosecutors accused the group of defying police instructions and encouraging crowds to march across Hong Kong’s main island, causing traffic disruptions.
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