Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai sentenced for pro-democracy protests


A court in Hong Kong sentenced pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to 14 months in prison on Friday after being found guilty of unauthorised assembly.

The verdict comes as Beijing is increasingly cracking down on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms while removing all opposition to its rule.

Mr. Lai, 73, the founder of the Apple Daily tabloid was one of several activists who were found guilty of charges relating to pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Other activists convicted on Friday include veteran campaigner Martin Lee, 82, and lawyer Margaret Ng, 73, who both received suspended sentences.

The rulings were related to two demonstrations, one held in August 18 and another on August 31, 2019.

Earlier this week, Mr. Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper published a handwritten letter by him, sent from prison, which read: “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”

Mr. Lai was sentenced to 12 months for the August 18 demonstration and another eight months for August 31. However, the judge ordered for the sentences to be served concurrently except for two months.

Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan was also jailed for both demonstrations.

The tycoon faces another six charges – two of which were imposed under the country’s new National Security Law, which can carry a maximum term of life in prison. It is possible that prosecutors could file further charges against him.

The law, implemented in Hong Kong by China last year, criminalises secession and subversion. Earlier this month, Beijing overhauled the territory’s electoral rules to ensure more loyalty to the mainland.

The sentencing is part of a series of trials all relating to the large-scale pro-democracy protests two years ago.

In 2019, protests culminated in the most tense wave of demonstrations in years, often ending in widespread violence between police and activists.

The pro-democracy campaigners were already found guilty of unauthorised assembly earlier this month.

Their defence team had argued that freedom of assembly is protected under Hong Kong’s constitution, and that authorities had approved a demonstration which only then grew into the unauthorised march.

The prosecution argued that freedom of assembly – while granted in the constitution – was not absolute in Hong Kong.

Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, and the Basic Law was created under the handover agreement under the “one country, two systems” principle.

This is supposed to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong: freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – freedoms that no other part of mainland China has.

But fears that this model was being eroded led to huge pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Some protests turned violent and in 2020, China introduced a controversial national security law in the territory, criminalising secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces with the maximum sentence life in prison.

Beijing said the law would target “sedition” and bring stability. Since the law has been enacted in June, around 100 people have been arrested, including Mr. Lai. (Source: BBC)