Hong Kong was rocked by mass pro-democracy protests during 2019. On Tuesday, a district court judge sentenced seven protest leaders to jail over organizing an unauthorized demonstration on October 20, 2019. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 1 (UPI) -- A Hong Kong district court judge on Wednesday sentenced seven pro-democracy protesters to up to 16 months in prison for charges stemming from an unauthorized demonstration they organized in 2019.
The protesters had pleaded guilty to the charges relating to organizing an Oct. 20, 2019, demonstration, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom clashed with police.
The protest was one of many held as part of a movement that erupted on the former British colony originally against a proposed extradition law but would grow to envelop wider pro-democracy goals amid a police and government crackdown on such events.
According to court documents, police had denied the organizers' proposal to hold a demonstration over fears of violence, but they went forward with the plans anyway while some of them incited others to participate during a press conference.
Judge Amanda Woodcock sentenced Figo Chan, 25; Leung Kwok-hung, 65; and Albert Ho, 69, to 16 months in prison; Cyd Ho, 67; and Raphael Wong, 32, to 14 months in prison; Avery Ng, 44, to 12 months in prison and Yeung Sum, 73, to 11 months.
The only defendant not currently serving a jail sentence was Wong. Woodcock said those already behind bars are to serve their sentences concurrently.
"As I have said before, the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of assembly, procession and demonstration for Hong Kong residents," Woodcock wrote in her sentencing document. "However, these rights are not absolute and are subject to restrictions ruled constitutional. Here, restrictions were applied in the interests of public safety, public order and the protection of others' rights and freedoms."
She said the political beliefs of the defendants and the purpose of the October demonstration were "irrelevant to sentencing."
Her ruling, she said, is based on the fact that some of those charged held a press conference to incite others to join them in defying the police ban against holding the demonstration and that they had appealed to the public to "jam pack" the streets.
She said that while they did call for a peaceful protest, doing so amid "such volatile times" was "essentially paying lip service to the expression."
"They deliberately turned a blind eye to public order being jeopardized," she said. "There was no concern for causing the most serious and indiscriminate obstruction in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong."
Concerning the argument that they cannot be held accountable for the actions of others, Woodcock dismissed it as they were the organizers of the event.
"When I consider the obstruction affecting so many, the violence and destruction captured on film in and around the route of the procession that took place during and long after the banner party declared the procession at an end, I find it unnecessary to define what violent acts or breaches of the peace can be attributed to participants of the procession," she said.
The protest was one of many that brought Hong Kong to a virtual standstill during 2019.
In response, China imposed a national security law upon the city to criminalize acts deemed a threat to the state, chilling political opposition in Hong Kong as many prominent pro-democracy protesters have either been jailed or fled the territory.