IBAHRI and BHRC condemn the sentencing of Veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy figures

Friday 16 April 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales (BHRC) condemn the prosecution, conviction and disproportionate sentencing of veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy figures, including Martin Lee QC, ‘father of Hong Kong democracy’, politician and legislator; Dr Margaret Ng, barrister; and media tycoon Jimmy Lai. They are among seven prominent figures who pleaded not guilty in February 2021 to accusations of organising and participating in an unauthorised assembly: the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented: The harsher sentence handed down to Jimmy Lai of one-year immediate prison time is a clear assault on the media and designed to chill freedom of expression in Hong Kong, which is a vital component of any democracy. Margaret Ng and Martin Lee have received several accolades for their lifelong defence of fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.Their sentencing is unjust and represents an assault on the principles of modern democracies worldwide. It must be met with vehement condemnation by the international community. We urge states worldwide to join in condemning the sentencing and take action against the use of law to strip individuals of their fundamental freedoms. We urge the Hong Kong authorities to immediately release those individuals imprisoned and drop all charges against them.’

On 1 April 2021, in respect of a public assembly and procession that had taken place in and from Victoria Park in Hong Kong on 18 August 2019, the West Kowloon Magistrates Court convicted the seven defendants, who were jointly charged of organising an unauthorised assembly pursuant to section 17A(3)(b)(i) of the Public Order Ordinance Cap 245 and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly, pursuant to section 17A(3)(a) of the same Ordinance.

Mr Lee has been handed an eleven-month prison sentence suspended for two years, and lawyers Dr Ng and Albert Ho have each received a one-year prison sentence suspended for one year. Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung and Cyd Ho Sau-Ian have been imprisoned immediately, with sentences ranging from eight to 18 months.

Mr Lai has been sentenced to one year in prison, 14 months in total owing to a separate custodial sentence being ordered in respect of a separate demonstration, to be served concurrently except for two months. He faces another six charges, two of which lie under the National Security Law. Judge Woodcock stated that this was to be a ‘deterrent’ sentence, saying that during the ‘volatile months’, there was an ‘inherent risk’ to public order.

Former pro-democracy politician and activist Au Nok-hin pleaded guilty to organising and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly, and Leung Yiu-chung, another activist, pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal assembly. They have been sentenced to ten months and eight months, suspended for 12 months, respectively.

Schona Jolly QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales, commented, ‘The continued misuse of the Public Order Ordinance to silence and repress legitimate and peaceful expressions of dissent, in this case senior figures in the pro-democracy movement, including lawyers and legislators who have worked tirelessly for human rights and the rule of law, is a grave blow to the protection of fundamental human rights in Hong Kong. The prosecutions, convictions and heavy custodial sentences of these dignified and experienced democrats, for their peaceful role in a protest sends a chilling message to Hong Kong citizens that free expression and peaceful protest may result in prison sentences. As Margaret Ng put it so well in her powerful sentencing remarks, “not only is the freedom to speak the truth the core of human dignity, it is also the last safety valve in a democratic society.” Safeguarding that safety valve has reached a critical juncture in Hong Kong, where the right to dissent is now under sustained attack and where there is a high risk that the law will be used to stifle lawful dissent.’

As part of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy, the Hong Kong Basic Law guarantees freedoms that are not available to those in mainland China until 2047. Hong Kong residents are guaranteed the rights to ‘freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration’. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that ‘[t]he right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised.’ Restrictions should be narrowly construed and they are not permissible unless they have been provided by law, and are both necessary and proportionate to a legitimate purpose enumerated within Article 21.

The Basic Law expressly preserves the ICCPR as applicable to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The state has a duty to protect and facilitate such protest, and the Public Order Ordinance must be implemented in conformity with Hong Kong’s obligations under the ICCPR. 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.

Other UN Mandates, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, have repeatedly urged the authorities to ensure that the Public Order Ordinance is implemented in conformity with Hong Kong’s obligations under the ICCPR.

The imposition of criminal charges on individuals who exercise their right to peaceful protest but who do not comply with procedural requirements, such as notification, are unnecessary, disproportionate and are vulnerable to abuse. The IBAHRI and BHRC call upon the Hong Kong SAR authorities to take immediate and urgent steps to safeguard and ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and free expression in Hong Kong, including the freedom to dissent, are meaningful and protected, in accordance with international legal obligations and the Basic Law.  

In 2019, Dr Ng and Mr Lee were joint recipients of the IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights for their lifelong defence of fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. 3. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales (BHRC) is the independent, international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. BHRC works to protect the rights of advocates, judges and human rights defenders around the world. It is dedicated to promoting principles of justice and respect for fundamental human rights through the rule of law.
  4. Find the IBAHRI and BHRC on social media here:
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  6. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

For further information, please contact:

Romana St. Matthew-Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association
5 Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1LG
United Kingdom

Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731 915
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091

Email: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
Email: IBApressoffice@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

IBA website page link for this news release:
Short link: