Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai will spend 14 months in prison for organizing and participating in two demonstrations during a wave of anti-government protests in 2019.
The Hong Kong judiciary, in the hands of the Communist Party of China, imposed sentences of 12 and 8 months for his participation in these two protests, which took place on August 18 and 31, 2019, although the judge ruled that in total he will have to spend 14 months in prison.
Lai, founder of the Beijing-critical Apple Daily newspaper, has been in prison for several months on charges including “collusion with foreign forces” under the security law Beijing imposed on the city.
Today, the Hong Kong court filed two more charges against him, for “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and for “conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice” by helping one of the twelve Hong Kongers captured in China in 2020 while trying to flee to Taiwan.
Aside from the tycoon, Judge Amanda Jane Woodcock of the West Kowloon Court imposed jail sentences of one and a half years for former legislator Leung Kwok-hung and 14 months for Labor Party Vice Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan for their role in the protests.
Six other Hong Kong activists were also sentenced to between 8 months and one year in prison for the same reason, but the judge decided to suspend the sentence for 24 months for some of these defendants.
Thus, Martin Lee, 82, one of Hong Kong’s best-known lawyers, and lawyer Margaret Ng were sentenced to 11 and 12 months respectively, with a two-year suspended sentence, while activists Albert Ho and Leung Yiu-chung were sentenced to 12 and 8 months, but their sentences were also suspended.
Protesting without permission from the Communist Party is prohibited
Last April 1, Lai and these activists were found guilty -or previously pleaded guilty- to organizing and participating in the aforementioned protest, which took place on August 18, 2019.
Police had only authorized a rally at the centrally located Victoria Park that day, but the conveners decided to proceed with their original plan and the demonstration resulted in a march that defense lawyers justified by asserting that their clients intended to avoid crowds.
The judge noted that the case involves “a direct challenge to police authority and law and order” and that the march was “premeditated” and “caused traffic disruptions.”
“Although it was peaceful, there was a latent risk that it would end with violent episodes,” she added.
“The fact that they made a conscious decision to violate the law is serious considering the volatility of those days,” the magistrate said.
The organizers claimed that the August 18 demonstration drew 1.7 million people.
These demonstrations were part of the wave of anti-government protests that took place in Hong Kong during the second half of 2019 following the authoritarian extradition bill that opened the door for Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China for trial there.
Hong Kong is no longer free
One of the activists whose sentence was suspended today, Albert Ho, expressed “surprise and outrage” over the case as he left the court amid shouts of “political repression!” raised by some supporters of the pro-democracy movement.
“A peaceful demonstration must be respected within the framework of international laws. In the past, no one would have been prosecuted here for participating in protests of this kind,” Ho told a group of journalists.
For its part, Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement that “imprisoning members of the opposition violates international law, which indicates that organizing or participating in a peaceful demonstration does not require prior permission from the state.”
“The sentence is evidence of the Hong Kong government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition in the city,” AI said.
“They arrested most activists through the national security law and are now sweeping out peaceful critics under the pretext of the 2019 protests,” the text adds.
In June 2020, Beijing passed another authoritarian national security law for the city that provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for such charges as secession or collusion with foreign forces.
The ruling also comes weeks after China approved an electoral reform for Hong Kong that will further limit the opposition’s options to access the governing mechanisms of the former British colony and will serve to strengthen Beijing’s control over the management of the territory.