Pro-democracy figures face harsher sentences with newer, more serious charges

Many of the defendants met with the press outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court today following their hearing. Screengrab: Apple Daily via Facebook
Many of the defendants met with the press outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court today following their hearing. Screengrab: Apple Daily via Facebook

Five of the 15 pro-democracy figures who were detained during last month’s sweeping arrests are now facing harsher sentences after prosecutors charged them with more serious crimes.

As the 15 democracy activists faced their charges in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court today, five of the accused — comprising former lawmakers Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, and Cyd Ho, as well as activist Figo Chan — were charged with inciting others to knowingly take part in an unauthorized assembly.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. All five defendants were previously told that they would be charged with making an announcement of an unauthorized public procession, which has a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment.

Other members of the group, which includes veteran lawmaker Martin Lee and Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai, have been charged with organizing or knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly, both of which carry a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. All 15 activists were arrested for their participation in a series of unauthorized marches that took place between last August and October.

The cases have been adjourned until June 15, and will be transferred to the District Court. All 15 defendants were released on bail and left the court to a standing ovation from pro-democracy protesters, who chanted, “Five demands, not one less”, and “Civil disobedience without fear”. A small group of pro-China protesters was also present, and chanted anti-democracy slogans outside the courthouse.

The arrests have sparked widespread criticism from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy crowd, as well as the United Nations’ human rights experts, the European Union, the British Foreign Office, and senior members of the United States government.

Last month, Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten said in a statement that Beijing and “its subservient government” used the attention on coronavirus as a cover to take “yet another step towards burying one country, two systems”.

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