Hong Kong media mogul and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai (黎智英) has told his staff to “stand tall” in a letter from prison, days before being sentenced in two of several cases against him.
Separately yesterday, fellow democracy advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) was sentenced to a further four months in jail, concluding another of a growing number of trials in a sweeping crackdown.
Lai, the 72-year-old founder of Hong Kong newspaper the Apple Daily, is in jail on remand after prosecutors successfully appealed against a court decision to grant him bail on national security charges.
The Apple Daily yesterday published a handwritten letter Lai sent to staff, urging them to take care of themselves.
“Freedom of speech is a dangerous job,” Lai wrote. “Please be careful not to take risks. Your own safety is very important.”
On the day of Lai’s arrest in August last year, hundreds of police officers raided the newspaper’s newsroom. It marked the start of an escalation in the Hong Kong government’s moves against journalism in the territory, which have since included the replacement of the head of public broadcaster RTHK, the cancelation of politically sensitive programs and the prosecution of a journalist who accessed a public database to investigate police brutality.
In his letter, Lai said it is “a journalist’s responsibility to uphold justice,” but the situation in Hong Kong had deteriorated.
“It is precisely this that we need to love and cherish ourselves. The era is falling apart before us, and it is time for us to stand tall,” he wrote.
Lai, who is charged with colluding with foreign forces, has not spoken publicly in months.
Days after his arrest on national security charges, he said the authorities “just want to show the teeth of the national security law, but they haven’t bitten yet. So let’s see what happens.”
Meanwhile, Wong was sentenced to an additional four months in jail for his involvement in an unauthorized assembly in October 2019 and for contravening an anti-mask law, the Hong Kong Free Press Web site reported.
Wong is already serving a 13-month prison sentence for other protest-related crimes and is yet to face trial on charges under the national security legislation.
Wong had pleaded guilty in January.
Veteran democracy advocate Koo Sze-yiu (古思堯) was sentenced to five months in jail after pleading not guilty. He is being treated for late-stage cancer and had just completed a jail term for a separate conviction.
Lai’s national security trial is pending, but earlier this month he was convicted over his involvement in one unauthorized protest and last week he pleaded guilty over another.
Sentencing for both is scheduled for Friday.
The offenses carry maximum penalties of five years in prison.
The conviction relates to a rally on Aug. 18, 2019, when an estimated 1.7 million people marched peacefully, but against police orders.
The guilty plea was over a rally on Aug. 31, 2019, which had originally been called off by the organizers after police arrested pro-democracy lawmakers and democracy advocates, but crowds protested regardless. It later descended into violent clashes.
Those accused alongside Lai include veteran democracy advocate Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人) and five other leading pro-democracy figures.
Hong Kong Democratic Party founder Martin Lee (李柱銘), an 82-year-old barrister considered the father of democracy in Hong Kong, is also facing sentencing for the first time on Friday.
In pleading guilty, Lee Cheuk-yan told the court: “History will absolve us.”
According to a transcript provided by Lee, he urged the judge to “understand my deep felt pain and sufferings to see how the state power had been using brute force against the people, and the sacrifices of so many Hong Kongers who were injured, jailed or exiled, also to witness the deprivation of the basic rights of the people and the regression in democracy.”
“I saw my ideal crumbling, but I will continue the struggle even though darkness is surrounding us. It is an ideal for which I am prepared for any sanction,” he said.
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