Hong Kong: conviction of seven pro-democracy activists another blow to the rule of law

The conviction of political activists Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho for their role in organizing public protests in 2019 delivers a massive blow to human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong, said the ICJ.

“These convictions are the latest attack on the already weakened standing of the rule of law and democracy in Hong Kong,” said Ian Seiderman, the ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

The defendants were convicted by West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on joint charges of organizing an unauthorized assembly under section 17A(3)(b)(i) of the Public Order Ordinance Cap. 245 and knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly under section 17A(3)(a) of the same Ordinance. Two other defendants, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, pleaded guilty in February before the trial began. They face up to five years in prison. Their sentences will be handed down at a later date.

“These prosecutions and convictions constitute persecution of human rights defenders, journalist, and politicians through abusive legal process. The unauthorized assembly provisions of the Public Order Ordinance has been used to silence lawful expressions of  on matters of public concern,” said Ian Seiderman.

The Hong Kong SAR, though not the rest of the People’s Republic of China, is legally bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees to the right to freedom of assembly and expression. The ICCPR continues to be in force in Hong Kong by virtue of Article 39 of the Basic Law. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly expressed concern that charging people under the Public Order Ordinance against peaceful protesters in Hong Kong stands to violate their human rights under the ICCPR.

The ICJ has previously pointed out that imposing criminal charge on people exercising their right of peaceful assembly who fail to comply with a procedural requirement, such as notification, unduly restricts freedom of peaceful assembly by adding unnecessary barriers to public gatherings. Furthermore, the sentencing guidelines of the Ordinance, which include the possibility of a peaceful participant of a public assembly being sentenced to five years in prison if the organizers fail to comply with the notification requirement, are extreme, disproportionate and open to abuse.

Background

On 12 August 2019 the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) submitted a Notification of Intention to hold a public meeting and procession, informing the police of the intention to hold a public assembly on 18 August 2019 starting from Victoria Park and ending at Chater Road, and a second public assembly at Chater Road. The police objected to the public procession from the Park to Chater Road. The CHRF appealed against the police decision and after an appeal hearing convened by the Appeal Board on 16 August 2019, the Board upheld the police decision and dismissed the appeal lodged by CHRF.

The CHRF held a press conference on 17 August 2019 wherein  they said the police had not arranged for the dispersal of crowds from Victoria Park so pro-democracy legislators and other influential activists would be assisting the crowds to disperse safely to nearby MTR stations. On 18 August 2019 during the public assembly at Victoria Park and the defendants carried a long banner out of Victoria Park Gate 17 and led a procession of people to Chater Road, Central. The route taken followed the previously proposed route of the banned public procession. The procession finished at Chater Road with the defendants laying the long banner down on the road.

Contact

Boram Jang, International Legal Adviser, Asia & the Pacific Programme, e: boram.jang(a)icj.org

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