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Hong Kong: Trial opens in for prominent opposition activists

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Pro-democracy activist Raphael Wong arrives at a local court in Hong Kong Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021.
Pro-democracy activist Raphael Wong arrives at a local court in Hong Kong Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021.   -   Copyright  (AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Seven Hong Kong pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty on Thursday to organising and inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly held in 2019, local media reported.

The seven activists appearing in court included Raphael Wong, the former chairman of the League of Social Democrats political party, and Figo Chan, who led the Civil Human Rights Front, a now disbanded group that organized protests.

"I was protesting based on the principle of civil disobedience. One of the key elements of civil disobedience is to accept the charges. So that is what we are going to do later, to plead guilty," Wong said on Thursday ahead of the proceedings.

"Another key element is that the people carrying out civil disobedience actions know being jailed is just part of the process," he said.

"We are not worried about being jailed. Instead, we hope we can achieve democracy after this process."

Wong was joined outside court by other League of Social Democrats members, including Chan Po-ying, Tsang Kin-shing and Tang Sai-lai.

They were holding a banner that read "Peaceful protest is not guilty, political prosecution is shameful."

Local news outlets Ming Pao and Stand News later reported all seven pleaded guilty.

Lawyers for the defendants could not be reached for comment and calls to the court went unanswered.

The activists are the latest to appear in court for charges related to 2019 anti-government protests that roiled the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

The protests were sparked by concerns that Beijing was infringing on the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it was handed to Chinese control in 1997.

Beijing responded to the protests by imposing a strict new national security law last year that has effectively criminalized much of the opposition to the government and silenced dissent.

Most of the city's most prominent activists, including Joshua Wong and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, are currently behind bars.

Many of them were prosecuted for taking part in unauthorised protests in 2019.

Of the seven defendants on Thursday, only Wong was not held in custody prior to appearing in court.

The other six are currently behind bars after being convicted of other offences related to their activism.