Hong Kong activist Jimmy Lai sentenced

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 12 months behind bars for helping lead a major pro-democracy demonstration.

The 73-year-old billionaire was sentenced to a year in prison while four other campaigners were jailed for between eight and 18 months.

Mr Lai, founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, is one of nine other veteran democracy activists who have been found guilty of organising and participating in one of the biggest rallies the region has ever seen.

Organisers say 1.7 million people – almost one quarter of Hong Kong’s population – turned out for a huge rally that formed the backbone of demonstrations that wracked the city throughout 2019.

Earlier in the day, Mr Lai was charged with two additional crimes, another count of foreign collusion and for trying to help local activists flee to Taiwan.

Both of these charges come under the country’s strict new National Security Law, which was implemented in Hong Kong by China last year.

The 2019 rallies held in Hong Kong often turned violent, descending into clashes between riot police and protesters.

The demonstrations posed the most concerted challenge to China’s rule since the former British colony’s 1997 handover.

As a result, China has moved to crush the democracy movement, unleashing a broad crackdown on dissent and passing a radical overhaul of the city’s electoral system.

Earlier this week, Apple Daily published a handwritten letter by Mr Lai, which he sent from prison.

“It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility,” he wrote.

Speaking ahead of his charging hearing, Mr Lai told the BBC that even if he were sent to jail he would still be living his life “meaningfully”.

“I came here with one dollar. I got everything I have because of this place,” he said. “If this is the payback time, this is my redemption,” he told the publication.

Among the other defendants were Martin Lee, 82, a respected barrister known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, who was once chosen by Beijing to help write the city’s mini-constitution.

They also include Margaret Ng, a 73-year-old barrister and former opposition politician.

Mr Lee and Ms Ng were also given prison terms, but their sentences were suspended.

Mr Lee and Mr Lai had pleaded guilty to taking part in another illegal assembly on August 31, 2019.

The maximum penalty is five years in prison and the sentencings are also expected to be delivered on Friday afternoon.

Seven of the defendants who had earlier pleaded not guilty submitted their mitigation on Friday morning.

“There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly,” said Ms Ng, who discharged her legal team and gave her statement in person.

She added that she’s prepared to stand with and stand up for the people who “in the last resort, had to give collective expression of their anguish and urge the government to respond”.

“I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first,” she said, whose submission ended with a round of loud applause in courtroom.

– With AFP

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