HONG KONG, CHINA — A Hong Kong court on Monday began the trial of 13 people over the storming and ransacking of the city’s legislature in 2019, which was an unprecedented challenge to the Beijing-backed government.
It was the most violent episode in the initial phase of the huge pro-democracy protests that shook Hong Kong that year, with millions marching and staging sit-ins for weeks.
Hundreds of protesters broke into the legislature on the night of 1 July 2019 — the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China — smashing windows and spraying graffiti.
The 13 defendants that went on trial Monday over the episode were charged with rioting, an offence that can be punished by up to 10 years in jail.
Seven pleaded guilty to that charge when proceedings began at a Hong Kong district court on Monday, and the prosecution shelved the additional charges against them.
“I have never regretted my fight for freedom, justice and democracy… my thoughts will remain free when I am in jail,” Althea Suen, who pleaded guilty, said in a Facebook message posted as the trial began.
The six who have not entered a guilty plea for rioting are facing additional charges of unlawful entry to the legislature and “criminal damage”, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Their trial is expected to run for 44 days.
More than 10,000 people were arrested as authorities sought to snuff out the 2019 protest movement, which was one of the biggest challenges to Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government since the 1997 handover.
In 2020, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, which outlawed most dissent and crushed the democracy movement.
Almost 2,900 people have been prosecuted on charges linked to the protests.