A Hong Kong court yesterday sentenced five leading democracy advocates, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), to up to 18 months in prison for organizing a march during the 2019 anti-government protests that triggered an overwhelming crackdown from Beijing.
A total of nine advocates were given jail terms, but four of them, including 82-year-old lawyer and former Hong Kong legislator Martin Lee (李柱銘), had their sentences suspended after their age and accomplishments were taken into consideration.
They were found guilty earlier this month of organizing 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. The march was not authorized by police.
Their convictions and sentencing are another blow to the territory’s flagging democracy movement, which is facing an unprecedented crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities.
The court suspended the 11-month prison sentence of Lee, who is known for his advocacy for human rights and democracy, for two years because of his age.
Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was already held on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the territory’s affairs — a new crime under a sweeping National Security Law that Beijing imposed last year.
Former Hong Kong legislator Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人), who helped organize annual candlelight vigils on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced to one year in prison.
Former Hong Kong legislators Albert Ho (何俊仁) and Margaret Ng (吳靄儀) both had their 12-month jail sentences suspended for two years.
Former Hong Kong legislator Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄) was sentenced to 18 months, while former Hong Kong legislator Cyd Ho (何秀蘭) was given a jail sentence of eight months.
Two other former Hong Kong legislators, Au Nok-hin (區諾軒) and Leung Yiu-chung (梁耀忠), who pleaded guilty, were also given jail sentences.
Au got 10 months, while Leung’s eight-month jail term was suspended for one year.
“I’m ready to face the penalty and sentencing, and I’m proud that I can walk with the people of Hong Kong for this democracy,” Lee Cheuk-yan said ahead of the court session, as supporters held up signs condemning political persecution. “We will walk together even in darkness, we will walk with hope in our hearts.”
Hong Kong had enjoyed a vibrant political culture and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China during the decades it was a British colony.
Beijing had pledged to allow the territory to retain civil liberties for 50 years after it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, but has over the past two years ushered in a series of measures, including the national security legislation and electoral reforms that many fear are a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from the mainland.
Under the new regulations, Hong Kong residents can be held liable for any speech or action deemed secessionist, subversive, terrorist, or perceived as colluding with hostile foreign political groups or individuals.
Electoral changes mean that just 20 out of 90 Hong Kong Legislative Council members are directly elected, and Beijing is to retain even tighter control over the body that picks the Hong Kong chief executive.
Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “comprehensive assault” on the freedoms of Hong Kong and its rule of law remains relentless.
“This week, we have witnessed some of the most distinguished of the city’s peaceful and moderate champions of liberty and democracy placed in Beijing’s vengeful sights,” he said in a statement. “The CCP simply does not understand that you cannot bludgeon and incarcerate people into loving a totalitarian and corrupt regime.”
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