Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for his role in organising one of the largest pro-democracy protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old, who is currently in pre-trial detention after being arrested for violating Beijing”s National Security Law, has been sentenced for his activism.
Lai was one of the nine leading Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates who were sentenced to jail terms on Friday for organising a march during the 2019 anti-government protests that triggered an overwhelming crackdown from Beijing.
They had been 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.
That protest had not been 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.
Those sentenced also include the city’s so-called “father of democracy” Martin Lee.
The 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.
Prior to sentencing, Lai, who is the founder of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid, 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.
Another of those sentenced on Friday, former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum, said before entering court that he was only fighting for freedom and democracy for people in Hong Kong, as stipulated in the Basic Law.
“We are not asking for something extra,” he said.
Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist and former lawmaker known for helping to organise annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
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.
Two other former lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who previously pleaded guilty were also given jail sentences. Au was sentenced to 10 months in prison, while Leung’s eight-month jail term was suspended.
Hong Kong had enjoyed a vibrant political culture and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China during the decades it was a British colony, but recently Beijing has ushered in a series of measures that many fear are a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from cities on the mainland.
China had pledged to allow the city to retain those freedoms for 50 years when it took the territory back in 1997.