Hong Kong activists jailed for illegal assembly in 2019 protests

Tens of thousands took to the streets in anti-government protests in 2019 and police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse them. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Seven Hong Kong democracy activists were sentenced on Wednesday (Sept 1) to up to 16 months in jail for their role in an unauthorised assembly at the height of anti-government protests in 2019.

They had pleaded guilty to charges, including organising and inciting others to take part in the illegal assembly on Oct 20, 2019, when tens of thousands took to the streets and police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse them.

The activists comprised Figo Chan, a former convener of the now-disbanded Civil Human Rights Front; Raphael Wong and Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats political party; and former legislators Cyd Ho, Yeung Sum, Albert Ho and Leung Kwok Hung, who is known in Hong Kong as "Long Hair".

The sentences ranged from 11 months to 16 months. Apart from Wong, the other defendants were all serving jail time in relation to other illegal assembly cases.

Judge Amanda Woodcock told the District Court that while the city's mini-Constitution "guarantees freedom of assembly, procession and demonstration", those rights are "not absolute".

"Restrictions were applied in the interests of public safety, public order and the protection of others' rights and freedoms," she said, referring to the Oct 20 rally.

The sentences are the latest to be handed down in connection with sometimes violent demonstrations that roiled the global financial hub in 2019.

The demonstrations were triggered by Beijing's tightening control over the former British colony, which was promised broad freedoms when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing imposed a national security law last year that critics say is aimed at stamping out dissent, an assertion the authorities in mainland China and Hong Kong reject.

Some democracy campaigners said the space for opposition voices was "shrinking".

"We hope everyone understands that this is political prosecution," Ms Chan Po Ying, chair of the League of Social Democrats, said outside court.

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