Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and Hong Kong barrister, 82 year-old Martin Lee, were among the five other former lawmakers convicted — a verdict that is just the latest in China’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, first reported the South China Morning Post.
Earlier this week, Beijing approved a major overhaul to the once semi-autonomous region’s electoral system, to keep “unpatriotic” lawmakers out of office.
China has consistently held that Hong Kong falls under China’s “one country, two systems” rule. But following strict crackdowns, particularly over the last year, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has vastly changed how Hong Kong is able to operate.
Hong Kong — which fell under British imperial rule until 1997 when it was handed back to China — was protected by the “one country, two systems” principle in order to safeguard Hongkongers’ freedom of speech, right to assemble and judicial independence.
But Beijing has revised liberties enjoyed in Hong Kong through the NPC’s Standing Committee, drawing fierce backlash from the international community.
“The NPC’s decision will provide strong institutional safeguards for the full and faithful implementation of the policy of ‘one country, two systems’ and the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’, and ensure the stability of Hong Kong in the long run,” Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying said Thursday. Hua added that the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system “ensures greater democracy in a balanced way, which serves the overall, fundamental and long-term interest of the Hong Kong society.”
Over that point, there is substantial disagreement.
“Shame on political prosecution! Peaceful demonstration is not a crime,” Leung Kwok-hung, a former Hong Kong lawmaker known as “Long Hair,” shouted after the conviction, reported the South China Morning Post.
Other veteran pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, Margaret Ng, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Cyd Ho were among those also found guilty.
The convicted face up to five years in prison but will appear in court on April 16, with mitigation pleas in an effort to reduce their sentencing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.