Jimmy Lai, 6 ex-lawmakers found guilty of illegal assembly, 'ruling proves judicial independence not bowing to foreign pressure'
Published: Apr 01, 2021 06:58 PM
Jimmy Lai Photo: VCG

Jimmy Lai Photo: VCG

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Hong Kong's media tycoon and a notorious anti-government figure, together with six former lawmakers were found guilty of organizing and attending an unauthorized assembly in 2019. 

The verdict shows the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary in being able to withstand pressure to make the right decision based on laws, and that major forces in Hong Kong are coming together to secure the region's stability instead of bowing to foreign intimidation and interference, observers said.

Lai was convicted on Thursday morning alongside six ex-lawmakers, including Martin Lee Chu-ming, another mastermind behind Hong Kong riots in 2019. 

The seven and two other defendants who had previously pleaded guilty will next appear in court on April 16, when the court will hear mitigation pleas before handing down sentences. Lai is expected to serve about a year in prison on both charges, legal experts told the Global Times. 

Besides Jimmy Lai,  Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, who are facing national security charges and will remain behind bars, the other six defendants were granted bail, but were asked to submit their travel documents and their British National (Overseas) [BN(O)] passports by next Wednesday.

The trial began in February, and the case was heard in the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court on February 16. During the trial, all seven defendants, including Lai, denied the charges, except for Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung who pleaded guilty earlier.

On March 10, the case continued at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong, where the magistrate ruled that all evidence had been established.

On Thursday, the judiciary arranged a special hearing of the case at the West Kowloon Court, where 11 witnesses were called and seven defendants were formally found guilty. 

They were convicted for their organization and involvement in a massive protest held on August 18, 2019, where organizers claimed nearly 1.7 million people flooded onto the streets and a number of rioters stormed the financial hub, damaged public property and caused great losses to Hong Kong. 

In a written verdict, Judge Amanda Woodcock noted that police did not object to the Civil Human Rights Front's application to hold a rally at Victoria Park on the day in question, but had rejected the group's request to march to Central and for another rally to be held there. The judge also dismissed the defendants' defense that they were just dispersing crowds, noting that they were carrying huge banners, local media RTHK reported.  

Lai also faces other serious charges under the national security law for Hong Kong, including colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, which was widely seen as a high-profile case. The 73-year-old has been considered a "modern-day traitor" for his notorious acts and deeds in instigating one of the most violent and chaotic riots in the city in 2019. He was repeatedly denied bail over the past few months as a risk of continuing to commit acts that may endanger national security. 

Observers told the Global Times that this official court ruling shows that the forces of Hong Kong society are uniting to work together in accordance with laws for the stability and development of Hong Kong. 

This ruling is symbolic as we can see from it that the Hong Kong courts have made fair judgments based on facts and laws, and have formed a constructive and benign interaction with social development, rather than becoming a tool of certain political forces to sway over, Li Xiaobing, an expert on Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

However, Hong Kong's return to the right track cannot only depend on a particular person or a particular judgment, Li noted. "This verdict demonstrates Hong Kong's determination and courage to hold accountable those who previously stirred up trouble and poisoned the social situation."

Li pointed out that in the past, secessionist forces have infiltrated Hong Kong society and even entered the court system to a large extent. 

Nonetheless, this verdict demonstrates the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary in being able to withstand pressure to make the right decision at a time when some senior officials from foreign governments are publicly commenting on the case and "demanding" Lai's release, Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, told the Global Times.

"Today's ruling will also serve as background information reference for other charges against Lai in the future, so that the judge can understand his character and make a fair decision and sentence that can have a deterrence effect on those anti-government rioters," Wong noted.