HONG KONG – Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media figure, and several prominent opposition campaigners in Hong Kong were sentenced to eight months to 18 months in prison for unauthorized peaceful protests on Friday.
Proponents of the defendants say the latest sign of prosecution is Fundamental changes Beijing has demanded imposition of Hong Kong. until recentlyThe city was a stronghold of free speech for a long time. Now, the sentences send an unmistakable message that activism poses a serious risk to the most internationally recognized opposition figures.
The court sentenced 73-year-old Mr. Lai, who has already served a 12-month jail sentence, to the founding of Apple Daily, an aggressive pro-democracy newspaper. Martin leeAn 82-year-old lawyer, often referred to as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy”, was sentenced to 11 months in prison, meaning that if he is not convicted of another crime in the next two years, he will be sent to bars. Will be put back .
China’s ruling Communist Party has long regarded Mr Li and Mr Lai as thorns in its favor, and the sentences now allow Beijing to be cast as the culprits, after its disregard of foreign criticism and sanctions combined The United States convicted Hong Kong after this ban.
The sentence is the latest increase in widespread repression that has effectively silenced political opposition and crippled its prospects.
Dozens of pro-democracy politicians are accused of sabotage under the stringent National Security Act. China has Hong Kong’s electoral system was destroyed To Strengthen the hold of the pro-Beijing establishment Power over. Protests during media and the arts, and protests during self-censorship have been largely halted Official pressure, Is a growing concern.
Over a period of months in 2019, Hundreds of thousands of people Participated in protest demonstrations in one Biggest challenges Communist Party over the decades. Measures already taken against dissent include sentences likely to be imposed on Friday Participation in such protests in future.
“It is very clear that the approach has changed fundamentally, not just by the courts and the police,” said Sharon Fast, a media law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. “The emphasis is on asserting; The emphasis is on punishment. And with large-scale assemblies, the risk is very high. “
The defendants were charged 1 March on 18 August 2019, That followed a gathering at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. The rally in the park was allowed by police, but officials had not previously approved a plan to march the protesters to the government headquarters for about two miles, citing violence in the protests.
Hundreds of people gathered in the summer rains. And as the defendants marched out of the park after the rally, behind a banner that condemned the use of police force during the protests, the crowd chased. While the prosecution conceded that there was no violence other than a single protestor kicking traffic cones, he cited a tense atmosphere of the period, in which the police were angry about the high performance, and large in support of the allegations There was traffic disruption on the scale.
Mr. Lee, who was the founder of the city’s first pro-democracy party and helped draft the region’s mini-constitution, has spent his life working in Hong Kong advocating for civil and political rights. That world has turned, To defend that cause, including several visits to Washington. Internationally focused such activism is now banned under the National Security Act.
Mr. Lai, a media mogul, was trafficked from mainland China to Hong Kong as a child and worked as a factory worker to a clothing company tycoon. Then he poured his money into crusade, taboo-style publications, which are important to officials in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Mr Lai faces a case of fraud and charges of collusion with a foreign country under the Security Act for allegedly calling for sanctions against Hong Kong. In a separate hearing on Friday, prosecutors added two more national security charges, accusing Mr Lai of conspiracy to sabotage and obstruct justice.
In the illegal assembly case, the court rejected the defense’s pleas that a procession after the rally was necessary to help the protesters get out of the crowded park safely, or the possible imprisonment for a non-violent march to free speech and the assembly. There will be infringement on rights. Was traditionally preserved in Hong Kong.
Judge Amanda Woodcock said On 1 April, while Hong Kong recognizes the right to a peaceful assembly, the law imposes limits to ensure the safety, order and rights of others. To deny prosecution just because a demonstration was peaceful “would not bet the law and mock it,” she wrote in her ruling.
One worker, Leung Kwok-hung, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the heaviest sentence. Lee Cheuk-yan, a labor leader, received a 12-month sentence and CID Ho, a worker, eight months. Albert Ho and Margaret Ng, two prominent lawyers, were both given suspended sentences. All defendants except Mr. Lai served in the Hong Kong legislature.
Ms Ng, speaking to the court before the sentencing, said that she believes that not only the courts and the legislature, but also the people who choose to perform, should be included.
“I am the good servant of the law but the first standing of the people,” she said. “The law should serve the people, not the law of the people.”
The defendants faced up to five years in prison for organizing and participating in the unauthorized assembly.
Mr Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yong Sum, former presidents of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, pleaded guilty last week to another charge of illegal assembly, related to a separate march on August 31, 2019. that day, Protests erupted in widespread violence.
Mr. Lai, In a letter this week His colleagues at Apple Daily told him to be careful because “freedom to speak is now a dangerous thing.”
“The situation in Hong Kong is getting more and more cold,” he wrote. “The era is falling in front of us, and so it is time for us to stand with our heads up.”