Jimmy Lai and nine others handed extra jail sentences in Hong Kong

Jimmy Lai and nine others handed extra jail sentences over Hong Kong democracy demonstrations but defiant campaigners still flash V for Victory signs as they are led to court

  • Jailed for organising an unauthorised pro-democracy protest on October 1, 2019
  • He must now serve a total of 20 months after pleading guilty to the latest charge 
  • Figo Chan, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung were among those imprisoned

Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was among nine democracy activists handed new prison sentences on Friday for attending protests on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China.

Lai, who is already behind bars for taking part in earlier protests, must now serve a total of 20 months after pleading guilty to organising an unlawful assembly on October 1, 2019.

Eight other leading activists, including 25-year-old youth campaigner Figo Chan, as well as former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, were also given new jail sentences.

Many flashed ‘victory’ hand signals on their way to court in a police van. 

Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was among nine democracy activists handed new prison sentences on Friday

Eight other leading activists, including 25-year-old youth campaigner Figo Chan (pictured), were also given new jail sentences

The group received new jail sentences for attending  protests on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China

The new sentences are the latest in a relentless and successful campaign by China to smother dissent and dismantle Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

Hong Kong was convulsed by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 in the most serious challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover.

The clashes with police on China’s October 1 National Day were some of the worst of that period.

It was a vivid and embarrassing illustration of how huge swathes of Hong Kong’s population seethe under Beijing’s rule as the government celebrated 70 years since communist China’s founding.

Hong Kong was convulsed by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 in the most serious challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover

The clashes with police on China’s October 1 National Day were some of the worst of that period

It was a vivid and embarrassing illustration of how huge swathes of Hong Kong’s population seethe under Beijing’s rule as the government celebrated 70 years since communist China’s founding

While President Xi Jinping oversaw a huge military parade in Beijing, clashes (pictured) between hardcore protests and police raged across Hong Kong that day

The march attended by the activists who were jailed on Friday remained largely peaceful. But it did not have official police permission, a requirement in Hong Kong

China has responded to the democracy rallies with a broad clampdown on Hong Kong, including the imposition of a sweeping national security law that outlaws much dissent

More than 10,000 people were arrested during Hong Kong’s democracy protests, with around 2,500 convicted for various offences

What were the 2019 Hong Kong protesters demanding? 

The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.

Beijing has since consolidated its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law, punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Supporters of the law say it has restored stability.

Hong Kong is ruled under the ‘one country, two system’ policy and has different legal and governing systems to mainland China. The principle was agreed upon by China and the UK before the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

However, many residents in the semi-autonomous city felt that their freedoms were eroding due to the tight political grip of Beijing.

Protesters at the time also demanded an independent inquiry into what they view as excessive violence from the police during clashes.

Mass rallies, sometimes attended by as many as two million people, took place every weekend. Protesters targeted government buildings, Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong, shopping centres and international airport to express their demands. 

The demonstrations often started with a peaceful march or sit-in and ended up in violent clashes between activists and police. 

While President Xi Jinping oversaw a huge military parade in Beijing, clashes between hardcore protests and police raged across Hong Kong that day.

The march attended by the activists who were jailed on Friday remained largely peaceful. But it did not have official police permission, a requirement in Hong Kong.

‘It was naive to believe a rallying call for peaceful and rational behaviour would be enough to ensure no violence,’ district judge Amanda Woodcock said as she handed down jail sentence.

She said part of Lai’s new sentence would be served consecutively, meaning the media mogul faces a total of 20 months in prison so far. 

‘They did call for a peaceful, rational and non-violent procession but how naive and unrealistic was that considering what was happening on a daily basis was the opposite,’ Woodcock said. ‘This is not with hindsight. The risk was very real every day at that time.’

The other nine defendants, including activists Figo Chan, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, who is known in Hong Kong as Long Hair, were sentenced to up to 18 months. Two received suspended sentences. 

China has responded to the democracy rallies with a broad clampdown on Hong Kong, including the imposition of a sweeping national security law that outlaws much dissent.

Hong Kong authorities on Thursday banned the annual June 4 vigil marking Beijing’s 1989 Tianamen Square crackdown, with security minister John Lee warning the security law could be used against those who defy the ban.

More than 10,000 people were arrested during Hong Kong’s democracy protests, with around 2,500 convicted for various offences.

Most of the city’s prominent democracy leaders are either under arrest, in jail or have fled overseas.

More than 100 people, including Lai, have been charged under the security law, which carries up to life in jail. 

Those handed jail terms on Friday are from the more moderate wing of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. Four were already serving jail sentences for taking part in protests.

Many of them have spent decades advocating non-violence in their ultimately fruitless campaign for universal suffrage.

Figo Chan, for example, was a key figure in the Civil Human Rights Front, the coalition that organised some of the largest rallies of 2019 when hundreds of thousands turned up.

Supporters chanted ‘Add oil!’ – a Chinese phrase of encouragement – as the group were led into court on Friday.

At a mitigation hearing earlier in the week, Chan accused Hong Kong’s unelected leaders of failing to give citizens an avenue to voice their dissatisfaction.

‘If the government listened to people’s demands, then it would not be necessary for the people to use violence to get the government to respond,’ he told the court.

Pro-democracy activist Avery Ng flashes a peace sign while holding a book with a cover picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping as he is escorted by prison officers

Former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan (centre right) and Leung Kwok-hung (centre left) were also given new jail sentences

Democracy activists Sin Chung-Kai (pictured) was among those sentenced over the unauthorised protest on October 1, 2019


Pro-democracy activists Albert Ho (left) and Richard Tsoi (right) were also handed sentences by judge Amanda Woodcock on Friday 

Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, said he had no regrets about the prospect of going to jail.

‘For over 40 years I have strived for democratic reform in China,’ he told the court. ‘This is my unrequited love, the love for my country with such a heavy heart.’

Activist Tsang Kin-shing, present at the court, condemned the ‘heavy’ sentencing received by Lee Cheuk-yan, his colleague in the League of Social Democrats.

‘We’re all trapped now in a prison city where freedom of expression is not allowed,’ Tsang told Reuters.

The sentence comes two weeks after authorities froze assets belonging to Lai, including bank accounts and his 71.26% stake in media publisher Next Digital 0282.HK.

Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank this month threatening up to seven years in prison for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The moves could imperil any attempt by the democracy activist to move offshore assets back home to prop up Next Digital’s troubled Apple Daily tabloid, a staunch government critic, one of Lai’s financial advisers said. 

China says the clampdown and security law is needed to return stability.

It has dismissed the democracy demands and says the protests were instigated by ‘foreign forces’ who want to undermine China.

Many Western nations say Beijing has shredded its promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and autonomy under a ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement agreed before the city’s 1997 handover.

A protester makes a gesture during a protest on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong. In total, nine veteran Hong Kong democracy activists were sentenced today for their roles in one of the city’s biggest-ever protests

Organisers said around 1.7 million people – a quarter of Hong Kong’s population – took part in the August 2019 protest for which nine democracy activists will be sentenced

A group of pro-democracy protesters wearing masks are pictured reacting after police fired tear gas during anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019

Who is Jimmy Lai? The media tycoon demonised by China as a ‘traitor to the motherland’

A rags-to-riches millionaire, media tycoon Jimmy Lai is a self-styled ‘troublemaker’ who has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side thanks to his caustic tabloids and unapologetic support for democracy.

The 73-year-old was convicted over his activism for the first time on Friday, handed a 12-month prison sentence for helping to lead one of Hong Kong’s biggest protests.

But in many ways, the verdict does little to change his daily life.

He has been held in pre-trial detention since early January under a sweeping new national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year.

Lai had long predicted he would be a prime target for authorities as they cracked down on dissent following the huge and often violent democracy protests that swept the financial hub in 2019.

‘I’m prepared for prison,’ Lai told AFP last year in an interview two weeks before the security law was enacted.

A rags-to-riches millionaire, media tycoon Jimmy Lai is a self-styled ‘troublemaker’ who has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side thanks to his caustic tabloids and unapologetic support for democracy

‘If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven’t read. The only thing I can do is to be positive.’

Few Hong Kongers generate the level of vitriol from Beijing that Lai does.

For many residents of the semi-autonomous city, he is an unlikely hero – a pugnacious, self-made tabloid owner and the only tycoon willing to criticise Beijing.

But in China’s state media he is a ‘traitor’, the biggest ‘black hand’ behind last year’s huge pro-democracy protests and the head of a new ‘Gang of Four’ conspiring with foreign nations to undermine the motherland.

Like many of Hong Kong’s tycoons, Lai rose from poverty.

He was born in mainland China’s Guangdong province into a wealthy family but they lost it all when the communists took power in 1949.

Smuggled into Hong Kong aged 12, Lai toiled in sweatshops, taught himself English and eventually founded the hugely successful Giordano clothing empire.

But his path diverged from his contemporaries in 1989 when China sent tanks to crush pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

He founded his first publication shortly after and penned columns that regularly criticised senior Chinese leaders.

Authorities began closing his mainland clothing stores, so Lai sold up and ploughed the money into a tabloid empire.

Prosecutors have brought multiple cases against Lai over the years and last summer he was acquitted of intimidating a journalist from a rival newspaper.

But his embrace of 2019’s democracy movement – and personal participation in some of the rallies – have now led to conviction.

At Friday’s court hearing, he was sentenced to 12 years for helping lead a peaceful protest on August 18, 2019. Four other veteran campaigners were also jailed for terms between eight and 18 months.

But it is the national security charge that threatens to keep Lai behind bars for the rest of his life.

Lai is accused of ‘colluding with foreign forces’ because he allegedly advocated for sanctions against China.

National security offences carry up to life in jail and most of those who are charged, like Lai, are denied bail.

Before his sentence was handed down Friday, prosecutors added an additional count of conspiring to collude with foreign forces, as well as conspiring to obstruct the course of justice. 

Chinese state media has already declared Lai guilty in articles and editorials since his arrest last summer.

During AFP’s interview last year, Lai said he had no plans to leave Hong Kong despite his wealth and the risks he faced.

‘I came here with nothing, the freedom of this place has given me everything. Maybe it’s time I paid back for that freedom by fighting for it,’ he said.

Lai’s two primary publications – the Apple Daily newspaper and the digital-only Next magazine – openly back democracy protests in a city where competitors either support Beijing or tread a far more cautious line.

The two publications have been largely devoid of advertisements for years as brands steer clear of incurring Beijing’s wrath. Lai has plugged the losses with his own cash.

But they are popular, offering a heady mix of celebrity news, sex scandals and genuine investigations such as a recent series looking at how the houses of some senior police officers violated building codes.

Earlier this week, Apple Daily published a handwritten note it said Lai had sent staff from prison.

‘Hong Kong’s situation is increasingly chilling, but precisely because of that, we need to love and cherish ourselves more,’ he wrote.

‘The era is falling apart before us and it is time for us to stand tall and keep our heads high.’

Source: AFP 

 

A timeline of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests 

2019 

February – Hong Kong’s Security Bureau proposes amendments to extradition laws that would allow extraditions to mainland China and other countries not covered by existing treaties.

March 31 – Thousands take to the streets to protest against the proposed extradition bill.

April 3 – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s government introduces amendments to the extradition laws that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

April 28 – Tens of thousands march on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to demand the scrapping of the proposed amendments. 

May 30 – Concessions to the extradition bill are introduced but critics say they are not enough.

June 6 – More than 3,000 Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black take part in a rare protest march.

June 9 – More than half a million people take to the streets. 

June 15 – Lam indefinitely delays extradition law.

July 1 – Protesters storm the Legislative Council on the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti.

July 9 – Lam says the extradition bill is dead and that government work on it had been a ‘total failure’.

Protesters are pictured waving their phones in a demonstration on August 28, 2019 

July 21 – Men in white T-shirts, some armed with poles, storm a train at rural Yuen Long station, attacking passengers and passersby, after several thousand activists surrounded China’s representative office. The pivotal attack triggers a massive backlash against the police, who were accused of being slow to respond.

July 30 – Forty-four activists are charged with rioting, the first time the charge has been used during the protests.

August 9 – China’s aviation regulator demands Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific suspend personnel who have taken part in the protests. The airline suspends a pilot, one of the 44 charged, the next day.

August 14 – Police and protesters clash at Hong Kong’s international airport after flights were disrupted.

August 21 – Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company, delays its Hong Kong listing of up to $15 billion.

September 2 – Lam says she has caused ‘unforgivable havoc’ and would quit if she had a choice, according to a recording of remarks to business people.

September 4 – Lam announces the extradition bill will be withdrawn. Critics say it is too little, too late.

September 17 – Lam pledges to hold talks with the community to try to ease tensions.

September 26 – Protesters trap Lam in a stadium for hours after her first ‘open dialogue’.

October 1 – City rocked by the most widespread unrest since the protests began as China’s Communist Party rulers celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Police shoot an 18-year-old protester in the shoulder.

October 4 – Lam invokes colonial-era emergency powers to ban face masks, sparking violent protests. A police officer shoots a 14-year-old boy in the thigh.

October 16 – Lam abandons her policy speech amid lawmakers’ jeers. Prominent rights activist Jimmy Sham is beaten by four men wielding hammers and knives.

October 23 – Extradition bill is withdrawn.

October 29 – Authorities disqualify pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from standing in upcoming district elections. 

November 2 – Protesters vandalise China’s official Xinhua news agency, smashing doors, setting fires and throwing paint. 

November 4 – University student Chow Tsz-lok, 22, falls from the third to the second floor of a parking lot as police disperse protesters.

November 6 – A knife-wielding man attacks pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho.

November 8 – Chow dies, the first student death during the protests.

November 11 – Police fire live rounds at protesters on the eastern side of Hong Kong island, one person wounded.

November 17-29 – Protracted, at-times fiery siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University as police surround campus after students and activists barricaded themselves inside. More than 1,100 mostly young activists arrested in what was widely seen as the police’s first major success against the movement. 

2020

January 1 – A march drawing tens of thousands on New Year’s Day spirals into chaos as police fire several rounds of tear gas and water cannon at crowds, including families, before halting event.

April 17 – Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong says it is not bound by a law restricting interference by mainland Chinese bodies, stoking concerns over China’s encroachment.

April 18 – Police arrest 15 activists, including Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, 81, and millionaire publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, 71, in the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since protests escalated in June.

May 8 – Rival lawmakers scuffle in the legislature over electing the chairman of a key committee.

May 21 – Beijing says it is moving to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong, following the often violent anti-government unrest last year.

May 24 – Police fire tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands as protests over the national security laws pick up with the easing of coronavirus curbs on gathering.

May 27 – Riot police fire pepper pellets as protesters rally in the heart of the business district amid demonstrations over the national security laws and a bill that would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem.

May 28 – China’s parliament overwhelmingly approves imposing national security legislation on Hong Kong to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

May 28 – President Donald Trump orders his administration to begin the process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong, but stops short of calling an immediate end to privileges that have helped the territory remain a global financial centre.

Source: Reuters

 

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