HONG KONG—Martin Lee, the 82-year-old lawyer credited with helping found Hong Kong’s democracy movement, and newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai were among seven veteran activists found guilty by a judge on charges related to a mass demonstration in 2019.
The Thursday guilty verdicts raise the prospect of jail time for a prominent group of democracy campaigners who have been fighting to preserve the rule of law in the former British colony since before it was returned to China in the late 1990s. Sentencing on the charges, which can carry up to five years’ jail time, was set for later this month.
“We believe we were just exercising our constitutional rights to protest come what may,” said the labor leader Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants, after the verdict. “It will be a badge of honor for us to go to jail for fighting for freedom and rights for Hong Kong people.”
The trial is part of a wave of prosecutions under way in Hong Kong as China crushes dissent in the former British colony. Amid a continuing crackdown that worsened last year when China imposed a sweeping national security law, many of the city’s democracy campaigners are now either on trial, in jail or living in exile.
After the judge read out the verdict Thursday, a lead prosecutor called on the judge to revoke bail until sentencing, saying the offenses were serious and risked plunging Hong Kong into anarchy by undermining public order. Defendants, however, were granted bail but can’t leave Hong Kong.