Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders found guilty

Pro-democracy lawmaker Martin Lee and Albert Ho arrive at a court in Hong Kong today

Speaking to the press ahead of the hearing, Lee Cheuk-yan said the offending demonstration showed the world the determination of the people of Hong Kong to fight for democracy: "One day we will win".

On Thursday morning, some of his supporters gathered near the court with banners denouncing "political repression". "We believe in the people of Hong Kong, in our brothers and sisters in our struggle, and the victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent", he said.

The defence team say that freedom of assembly is protected under Hong Kong's constitution, and that authorities had approved a demonstration which then grew into the unauthorised march.

Lee, the 82-year-old founder of a democratic party, is known as the "father of democracy" in Hong Kong.

The defense argued that even though defendants lacked a permit to move the march, they were simply leading participants out of the park to avoid overcrowding. However, Woodcock found she was bound by precedent and there were no grounds to challenge. They also said that imprisoning them over a peaceful march was a heavy-handed application of the law.

"I am sure this public procession was not about dispersal of crowds". This intention was vocalised repeatedly and publicly days before the public meeting.

Hong Kong human rights associations have long complained that the authorities use the term "organizing and participating in an unauthorized rally".

The result was set to have a bearing on court cases involving five other unapproved assemblies.

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Lai is among those who remains jailed on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city's affairs, a new crime under the national security law imposed on the city in 2020 by the central government in Beijing.

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.

Organizers accounted for 1.7 million protesters that day, representing almost one in four Hong Kongers.

According to the ruling, six of the seven defendants convicted on Thursday, including Lee and Lai, carried a banner that criticized police and called for reforms as they left Victoria Park on August 18, 2019, and led a procession through the centre of the city.

Critics, including Western governments, have condemned the arrests of Lee and other democrats amid the ongoing crackdown. Forty-seven other high-profile democratic campaigners are facing subversion charges under the national security law, and have mostly been denied bail and are being held in detention.

Earlier this week Chinese leaders also passed a new law governing Hong Kong's already limited local elections.

The case is part of a push to disband Hong Kong's democratic institutions and clamp down on the opposition's moderate wing, according to Michael Davis, a professor of law and worldwide affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in India and a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

In a statement on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that China had "severely undermined the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong", through arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions as well as "pressure on judicial independence and academic and press freedoms".

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