A Hong Kong court overturned one of two convictions for seven top democracy activists including media mogul Jimmy Lai over an unauthorized protest in 2019, a narrow victory for the city’s beleaguered opposition.
(Bloomberg) — A Hong Kong court overturned one of two convictions for seven top democracy activists including media mogul Jimmy Lai over an unauthorized protest in 2019, a narrow victory for the city’s beleaguered opposition.
The Court of Appeal said in a written ruling Monday there was no evidence the defendants played any role in planning, organizing or issuing any instructions either before or during the march.
Judges Andrew Macrae, Maggie Poon, and Anthea Pang let stand an earlier court’s verdict that the seven had participated in the peaceful demonstration at the height of the city’s unrest.
Their decision means that four defendants have their sentences from the organizing conviction scrapped. The other three had received suspended terms.
See: HK Says Court Should Have Followed Leader’s Call to Ban Song
The case involving the seven, including Martin Lee, leader of the pro-democracy camp during the former British colony’s transition to Chinese rule, was part of a series of major legal setbacks that Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has suffered.
The group comprised veteran activists who have for years supported causes such as human and women’s rights, and organized vigils commemorating the 1989 crackdown on student demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Critics of the government’s case say the defendants were singled out among more than 1 million people who attended the protest as part of a broader effort to curtail opposition efforts.
Lai’s sentencing in April 2021 came on a day the critic of Beijing’s policies faced four separate court appearances, including a hearing on his national security offenses. He is serving a prison term of more than five years for a fraud conviction related to the media company he once owned.
Lai faces up to life in prison if he’s convicted in a national security trial scheduled to start Sept. 25.
Last week, Hong Kong’s government said judges should have followed the wishes of the city’s leader and banned a controversial protest song from the internet under a national security law imposed by Beijing, raising questions about judicial independence in the financial hub.
Government lawyers said in an appeal document that Chief Executive John Lee’s assessment that the promotion of Glory to Hong Kong would pose national security risks should have been “binding on the courts.”
That was the strongest rebuke yet of the city’s judiciary over the handling of national security matters. Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced China for undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s courts.
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