Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 16 months in prison on Friday for participating in unauthorized protests against the government in 2019.
Lai, 73, owns Apple Daily, which publishes criticism of local government and Chinese leaders. A millionaire, he made his fortune in the garment industry before becoming a media writer and one of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy activists.
He has traveled to Washington frequently to meet with officials such as then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking support for pro-democracy protesters. For this reason, Beijing considers him a traitor.
The businessman is currently serving a temporary arrest. It was his first conviction. He is also the target of other charges, such as conspiracy with foreign forces and attempted obstruction of justice. With this, he can be the target of more future punishments.
Earlier this week, he published a letter, written in prison, in his journal. “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we do not allow evil to come upon us, we take our responsibility,” he wrote.
Besides Lai, four other defendants were sentenced to between 8 and 18 months in prison for organizing and participating in the peaceful demonstration on August 18, 2019, which called for more democratic participation and accountability of the police for the severe repression of activists in other countries. . acts.
Judge Amanda Woodcock said that if the protest in question was peaceful, there was a “latent risk of possible violence”, which justifies the prison terms.
On Friday, the court granted parole to four other defendants, including famous lawyer Martin Lee, 82, known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, and lawyer and former MP Margaret Ng, 73.
The lawsuit against the activists is criticized by international entities, which warn against the reduction of democracy in Hong Kong. “The unfair sentences underscore the government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition,” said Yamini Mishra, regional director of Amnesty International.
The 2019 protests, which have been going on for months, called into question the curtailment of political rights in Hong Kong, guaranteed by an agreement reached between China and the United Kingdom. In 1997, the British returned control of the region to Beijing, on condition that there were rules different from those in the rest of the country, such as freedom of speech and the press.
The protests plunged the semi-autonomous territory into its biggest crisis in decades. However, with the onset of the pandemic, the actions lost their force. Next, Beijing imposed a national security law, punishing any act that considers division, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces – with the possibility of life imprisonment.
Since the law was enacted in mid-2020, the protests have stopped. The government has tightened its grip on the opposition even further and is working on a change in the electoral system to ensure that only pro-Chinese “patriots” rule Hong Kong.
Officials at the territory and China say the changes are needed to restore stability in Hong Kong and human rights will be upheld.