Hong Kong’s leading anti-Beijing advocates were found guilty earlier this month of organising and participating in a massive protest in August 2019, where an estimated 1.7 million people marched in opposition to a security bill.
Nine of Hong Kong’s leading anti-Beijing advocates were sentenced to jail terms Friday for organising a march during the 2019 anti-government protests that triggered an overwhelming crackdown from Beijing.
Those sentenced include the city’s so-called “father of democracy” Martin Lee as well as anti-Beijing media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
They were found guilty earlier this month of organizing and participating in 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 for trial.
The protest was not authorised by the police.
Their convictions and sentencing were the latest blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker known for his advocacy of human rights and democracy in the city, had his sentence of 11 months in prison suspended after his age was taken into consideration.
Lai, the founder of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Prior to sentencing, he was remanded in jail on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs — a new crime under a national security law imposed on the city in 2020 by the central government in Beijing.
Lee Cheuk-yan, an anti-Beijing activist and former lawmaker known for helping to organise annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Lawyers Albert Ho and Margaret Ng both had their 12-month jail sentences suspended.
Former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was sentenced to 18 months, while another former legislator, Cyd Ho, was given a jail sentence of eight months.
Two other former lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who previously pleaded guilty were also given jail sentences. Au was sentenced to 10 months in prison, while Leung’s eight-month jail term was suspended.
Hong Kong’s leading anti-Beijing advocates were found guilty earlier this month of organising and participating in 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 for trial. They faced up to five years in prison.
Their convictions were the latest blow to the city's flagging democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Beijing had pledged to allow the city to retain civil liberties not permitted in mainland China for 50 years after the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, but recently has ushered in a series of measures, including a national security legislation and electoral reforms, that many fear are a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from cities on the mainland.
Under the new rules, Hong Kong residents can be held legally liable for any speech opposing China's government and the ruling Communist Part or perceived colluding with hostile foreign political groups or individuals.
Electoral changes mean just 20 out of 90 Legislative Council members will be directly elected and Beijing will retain even tighter control over the body that picks Hong Kong's future chief executives.
“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.”
Lawyers Albert Ho and Margaret Ng, as well as former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Cyd Ho, were also among those who were found guilty.
According to their convictions, six of the defendants carried a banner that criticized police and called for reforms as they left Victoria Park and led a procession through the center of the city. Another defendant, Margaret Ng, joined them on the way and helped carry the banner.
Lai, together with Lee Cheuk-yan and a former lawmaker Yeung Sum, have also been convicted of taking part in another unauthorized assembly on August 31, 2019. All three have pleaded guilty. They are expected to be sentenced later Friday, after the first case, and face up to five years in prison.
While Hong Kong's government dropped the extradition bill in the face of widespread opposition, demonstrators expanded their list of demands to include electoral reforms for the chief executive and an inquiry into police tactics targeting protesters. Those were sternly refused by the authorities and protests grew increasingly violent until the opposition prevailed in local district council elections.
Beijing then imposed a sweeping national security law, and Hong Kong authorities postponed elections for the Legislative Council, citing coronavirus precautions. Most opposition figures have since been jailed, intimidated into silence or sought asylum abroad and authorities have decreed that only those considered to be true Chinese patriots will be allowed to hold office in future.