Hong Kong court re-sentences pro-democracy activists for conducting peaceful rallies

Ten people, including One Media Hong Kong founder Lai Chi-ying and pro-democracy activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were charged with organizing an unauthorized assembly on Oct. 1 of the previous year and sentenced to 14 to 18 months in prison on Friday (28). The case of Lai Chi-ying, who has been charged with a number of unauthorized assembly, was sentenced to 20 months in prison after the sentence was increased. The focus of the case is on the charges that used to be punishable only by fines, now easily sentenced to years of imprisonment.

The 10 defendants were charged with inciting, organizing and participating in an “unauthorized assembly” on October 1, 2019, and each pleaded guilty earlier. Among them, the former Legislative Council member Shan Zhongkai and Secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Choi Yiu-cheong, was sentenced to two years of probation.

The founder of Next Media, Lai Chi-ying, who was earlier convicted of unauthorized assembly, received an additional sentence of 20 months after this case. The case of Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, both of whom are veterans of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, were also sentenced to 20 and 22 months respectively.

The National Security Law designated judge Wu Ya Wen said when he handed down the sentence, the defendants ignored the opposition of the police and publicly called on the public to participate in the rally and march through social media platforms and the media. Judge Woo also pointed out that their claims of “peaceful, rational and non-violent” rallies and marches were “naive and unrealistic,” and repeatedly emphasized that the fact that there were frequent and serious violent incidents on that day was not their claim of “civil disobedience” or “civil disobedience. The defendants also repeatedly emphasized that the frequent violent incidents on that day were not “civil disobedience” or “peaceful assembly” as they claimed, and reiterated that “although the Basic Law grants freedom of expression, it is not absolute”.

Defendant: The verdict is unprecedented in Hong Kong

The defendants, who were sentenced to probation, said they were released from prison, but they were very heavy and sad, revealing that the lawyers of the 10 defendants will actively consider appealing the sentence.

Single Chung-kai lamented that the current Hong Kong has been completely different, said the previous charge of unauthorized assembly, will only be sentenced to a fine or community service order, but the starting point of the sentence is 18 to 24 months, described as a broken record.

Single Zhongkai said: “mood are so heavy, because many of our friends spent the past 10 days in prison together, they face the next 18 months to two years in prison. I am very sad, I think we pursue a freedom of expression given by the Basic Law, and the consequences are so serious, the seriousness is unprecedented in Hong Kong.”

Asked whether the march and rally in Hong Kong would disappear, he described the political and legal environment in Hong Kong as tougher than in the past, but hoped that Hong Kong people would still have faith and insist on freedom of speech and expression.

The defendant’s family criticized the sentence as too heavy

The defendant Leung Kwok Hung’s wife, Chan Po Ying, met with reporters after court and criticized the sentence as too heavy, saying that similar cases in earlier years would only be sentenced to fines, but now they have to face years of imprisonment, questioning the verdict to deter people from demonstrating.

Chan Po-ying said: “We should not forget that this is an ‘unauthorized assembly’, unauthorized assembly means there is no violence, there is no component that affects social peace, just because there is no police approval of a march and rally. In the past, Leung Kwok Hung was once fined just HK$500 in the very early days, i.e. the 1990s, and even ten years ago, the charge was only a fine of a few thousand Hong Kong dollars.”

The Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front was scheduled to launch the “No National Day, Only National Mourning” march on Oct. 1, 2019, but the police issued a notice of objection and the appeal was rejected. Ten pro-democracy activists were later arrested and charged with organizing or participating in an “unauthorized assembly”.

“Unauthorized assembly” in the past more fines, but now often sentenced to years of imprisonment

Hong Kong’s current Public Order Ordinance establishes a “notice of no objection” system, and the decision is entirely in the hands of the police. Failure to notify the police, or the police issued a “notice of objection” assembly, can be regarded as “unauthorized assembly”.

It should be noted that “unauthorized assembly” is different from “unlawful assembly”, which does not contain the element of “breach of public peace”. In previous court cases, most of the charges related to “unauthorized assembly” were punished by fines or “self-signed guarding acts”, but since the anti-sending campaign in 2019, the situation is no longer the same, the same charge, the penalty is greatly increased.

First, there was the “6.21 siege on the police headquarters” case in 2019, in which Wong Chi-fung, Lam Long-yan and Chow Ting were sentenced to 7 to 13.5 months in prison for “unauthorized assembly”. In the subsequent “8.18 rally” and “8.31 demonstration” cases, nine people, including Lee Chu-ming and Lai Chi-ying, were also sentenced to 6 to 18 months in prison for “unauthorized assembly”. The case of the “8.31 March” also saw nine people, including Lee Chu-ming and Lai Chi-ying, sentenced to 6 to 18 months in prison for “unauthorized assembly”. In last year’s “6.4 Party” case, four people, including Wong Chi-fung, were sentenced to 4 to 10 months in prison for simply lighting candles in Victoria Park.

Tao Junxing: the verdict makes people doubt whether Hong Kong still has judicial independence

Tao Junxing, former chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said in an interview with the station that he had been charged with “holding and assisting in holding unauthorized assemblies” in 2006 and 2012, respectively, and was fined HK$500 and HK$2,000 in each of the two cases. He described the crime of unauthorized assembly in the past is not a serious crime, heavy sentences related to the crime, in the past completely unimaginable.

Tao Junxing: “If you want to impose a heavy sentence because it involves violence, I can understand this, because it involves public safety and the freedom of others. But if you are a peaceful assembly, and just did not get approval, it is actually very minor, like illegal parking. The power is all in the hands of the police, if you say you approve it, you approve it, if you say you don’t approve it.”

He argued that the judicial verdict in Hong Kong after the anti-Send-China movement in 2019 has raised doubts about whether Hong Kong still has judicial independence, describing a sea change in the rule of law under one country, two systems. He criticized the verdict as a serious suppression of the right to assembly and to express opinions under the Basic Law, as well as a reckoning against political figures.

The verdict on the crime of “unauthorized assembly” comes a week before the 32nd anniversary of June 4. At present, the Hong Kong Police Force has issued a notice of objection to the June 4 demonstration and rally, and the pro-China media and Hong Kong government officials have been leaking the news that the law will be strictly enforced on that day. The verdict will form a “chilling effect”, deterring Hong Kong people from participating in the June 4 memorial, is also the focus of attention.