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Trial Begins for Nine Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists for 2019 Demonstration

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai is escorted by Correctional Services officers to get on a prison van before appearing in a court, in Hong Kong, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Lai, who founded the Apple Daily tabloid, has been…

A group of nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists went on trial Tuesday for taking part in an unauthorized massive anti-government protest in 2019.

The activists, who include 82-year-old Martin Lee, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and Lee Kwok-hung, commonly known as Long Hair, are accused of organizing or participating in the August 18, 2019 protest, which drew more than 1 million people. Seven of the activists entered not guilty pleas, while two of the activists pleaded guilty --Au Nok-hin to organizing and taking part in an unlawful assembly, and Leung Yiu-chung to taking part in an unlawful assembly.

The demonstration was one of the largest that engulfed Hong Kong in the last half of 2019, many of which involved violent clashes between protesters and police. The protests were triggered by a controversial extradition bill that evolved into a greater demand for greater freedoms for the financial hub, which had been granted an unusual amount of freedoms when Britain handed over control in 1997.

The demonstrations spurred Beijing to impose a new national security law last year under which anyone in Hong Kong believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces could be tried and face life in prison if convicted.

The 73-year-old Lai, whose company publishes the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Day, is already in jail under the new law on suspicion of foreign collusion. He was arrested in December and spent three weeks behind bars before posting a $1.2 million bond. His bail was eventually revoked by Hong Kong’s highest court after prosecutors appealed a lower court decision.

Lai was arrested last April with the other defendants for the 2019 demonstration, and was arrested a second time last August on the charges of suspicion of foreign collusion.