Convictions of Campaigners and Journalists Shake Democracy In Hong Kong

This month, seven of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists have been convicted of organizing and participating in protest assemblies during the 2019-2020 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill demonstrations.

Those convicted were 73-year-old media mogul Jimmy Lai, the founder of a pro-democracy newspaper, 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee, a founder of the opposition Democratic Party, lawyer Albert Ho, politician and barrister Margaret Ng, workers’ rights activist Lee Cheuk-yan, former legislators Cyd Ho and social activist Leung Kwok-hung.

The seven were arrested last year for taking part in a protest on August 18, 2019 which was one of the largest in Hong Kong involving over 1 million people and igniting conflict between protesters and police. The protests were triggered by a controversial extradition bill which would have infringed upon agreements of the 1997 hand-over treaty and threatened Hong Kong’s one country-two systems system.

The seven democracy campaigners face prison with Jimmy Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan being sentenced to 14 months, while Margaret Ng and Martin Lee received suspended sentences. Since the protests, China has removed four opposition lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature and introduced new rules that give it virtually all control on how legislature and the region’s chief executive are selected. Additionally, a recent national security law has virtually eradicated all possibilities of political dissent which enabled over 50 activists to be arrested for participating in an independent primary election in January.

The arrests and convictions come at a time where crackdowns are being made on other outspoken individuals like Bao Choy, a Hong Kong news producer who was convicted of criminal conduct on April 22 having been arrested in November 2020. She was charged with two counts criminality in trying to gain access to a vehicle number plate database related to a notorious attack at a metro station. The programme she was producing investigated police involvement in violence perpetrated by disguised men that left 45 people needing medical attention in July 2019. Choy has been ordered to pay a HKD$6,000 (£550) fine.

The case against Bao Choy is a yet another attack on Hong Kong’s press as strict inspection of the media, academics and activists draws the territory further under the control of Communist China. Crowds that assembled in support of Choy on Thursday sported supportive banners and demonstrators continue to protest in small numbers as press freedom continues to deteriorate. Hong Kong now ranks 80 out of 180 countries and territories for press freedom, down from 18th in 2002 when the Reporters Without Borders organization began recording the Press Freedom Index.

Image credit: Prachatai on Flickr