Issued on: 16/04/2021 – 12:23

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday for helping to lead one of the city’s biggest-ever protests. He was one of several leading activists to be sentenced, including Hong Kong’s so-called “father of democracy” Martin Lee.

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They were found guilty earlier this month of organising and participating in a massive protest in August 2019, where an estimated 1.7 million people marched in opposition to a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The protest was not authorised by the police.

Their convictions and sentencing were the latest blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. 

Lai, the founder of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for unauthorised assembly. He was later given an additional 14 years for a separate unauthorised assembly case.

Prior to sentencing, he was remanded in jail on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs – a new crime under a national security law imposed on the city in 2020 by the central government in Beijing.

Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker known for his advocacy of human rights and democracy in the city, had his sentence of 11 months in prison suspended after his age was taken into consideration.

Lawyers Albert Ho and Margaret Ng both had their 12-month jail sentences suspended. Former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was sentenced to 18 months, while another former legislator, Cyd Ho, was given a jail sentence of eight months.

Their convictions were the latest blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. 

Applause greets defendant’s court statement

Lai was brought to the court earlier Friday from custody, where he was being held after arrest under Beijing’s new national security law.

Seven of the defendants who had earlier pleaded not guilty submitted their mitigation on Friday morning.

“There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly,” said Ng, who discharged her legal team and gave her statement in person. 

She added that she’s prepared to stand with and stand up for the people who “in the last resort, had to give collective expression of their anguish and urge the government to respond”.

“I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first,” said Ng, whose submission ended with a round of loud applause in courtroom. 

Judge Amanda Woodcock earlier said in her verdict that the march had caused serious traffic disruption and the fact it was peaceful was no defence. 

“I’m ready for the sentencing and I’m proud that I can walk with the people of HK in this road for democracy,” former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said outside court ahead of the hearing.

“We’ll walk together through the storm even in darkness.”

Under Hong Kong’s controversial new security law, the city’s residents can be held legally liable for any speech opposing China’s government and the ruling Communist Part or perceived colluding with hostile foreign political groups or individuals. Electoral changes mean just 20 out of 90 Legislative Council members will be directly elected and Beijing will retain even tighter control over the body that picks Hong Kong’s future chief executives. 

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)