Zen Soo

Hong Kong

A Hong Kong court on Friday sentenced five leading democracy advocates, including media mogul Jimmy Lai, to up to 18 months in prison for organizing and participating in a massive march during the 2019 anti-government protests that took sparked an overwhelming crackdown from Beijing.

A total of nine lawyers were sentenced to prison terms, but four of them, including 82-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker Martin Lee, had their sentences suspended after their age and their accomplishments were considered. .

They were convicted earlier this month of organizing and participating in a massive protest in August 2019, in which around 1.7 million people demonstrated to oppose a bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland China. The march was not authorized by the police.

Their convictions and convictions are another blow to the city’s democratic movement, which faces unprecedented crackdowns from authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong. The convictions quickly came under international criticism.

The court suspended the 11-month prison sentence of Lee, known for his advocacy for human rights and democracy, for two years because of his age.

Lai, the founder of the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily tabloid, was sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison on Friday on charges relating to an August 18, 2019 protest and a separate unauthorized march on August 31, 2019.

Lai was also slapped with two more charges on Friday, one under the National Security Act accusing him of conspiring to come to an agreement with foreign powers and another accusing him of helping. local activists to escape from the city.

Prior to sentencing, Lai was already being held on other counts, including a previous charge of foreign collusion to interfere in city affairs – a new crime under a sweeping national security law than Beijing. imposed on the city in 2020.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist and former lawmaker who helped organize annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, was sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison for his participation in the two marches in August 2019.

Lawyers Albert Ho and Margaret Ng both had their 12-month prison terms suspended for two years. Former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was sentenced to 18 months, while another former lawmaker, Cyd Ho, was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Two other former lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who previously pleaded guilty, were also sentenced to prison terms. Au was given 10 months while Leung’s eight-month prison term was suspended for one year.

In another case, former lawmaker Yeung Sum was sentenced alongside Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan for participating in the unauthorized assembly on August 31, 2019, although his eight-month term was suspended for a year. .

“I am ready to face the punishment and conviction and I am proud to be able to march with the people of Hong Kong for this democracy,” Lee Cheuk-yan said ahead of the court session, as supporters waved placards condemning political persecution. . “We will walk together even in darkness, we will walk with hope in our hearts.” Hong Kong had benefited from a vibrant political culture and freedoms unknown elsewhere in China during the decades when it was a British colony.

Beijing had pledged to allow the city to retain civil liberties for 50 years after it was transferred to Chinese rule in 1997, but recently ushered in a series of measures, including national security legislation and electoral reforms it many fear being a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from mainland cities.

Under the new rules, Hong Kong residents can be held responsible for any speech or act deemed secessionist, subversive, terrorist, or perceived to be collusion with hostile foreign political groups or individuals. The electoral changes mean that only 20 of the 90 members of the Legislative Council will be directly elected, and Beijing will retain even tighter control over the body that chooses Hong Kong’s future CEOs.

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, said that the Chinese Communist Party’s “global assault” on Hong Kong’s freedoms and its rule of law remained relentless.

“This week we have seen some of the city’s most distinguished peaceful and moderate champions of freedom and democracy placed in Beijing’s vengeance,” he said in a statement.

“The CCP just doesn’t understand that you can’t club and jail people to enjoy a totalitarian and corrupt regime.” Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said the sentences handed down on Friday underscored the government’s intention to “eliminate all political opposition” in Hong Kong.

“After arresting the majority of Hong Kong’s most prominent dissidents using the repressive national security law, authorities are now moping up remaining peaceful criticism under the pretext of bogus charges related to the 2019 protests,” Mishra said.