Activist and business tycoon Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for urging participation in last year’s banned Tiananmen vigil, amid a crackdown by Chinese authorities that has restricted the semi-autonomous city’s civil liberties.
The District Court in Hong Kong on Monday convicted seven others on similar charges and handed out sentences of up to 14 months.
Hong Kong’s government has banned the candlelight vigil for the past two years on pandemic control grounds, although it is widely believed the ban is intended to be permanent as authorities look to crush the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Lai, the founder of the now-closed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, has already been jailed for taking part in pro-democracy protests, for which he will serve a total of 20 months.
Two other defendants convicted along with Lai, lawyer Chow Hang-tung and former reporter Gwyneth Ho, were sentenced to 12 and six months respectively for taking part in the vigil. Chow was also sentenced for inciting others to join.
The three had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Others sentenced Monday included Lee Cheuk-yan, the former chairman of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
Lee received 14 months for organising last year’s unauthorised assembly, during which thousands of people gathered to light candles and sing songs in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park despite police warnings that they may be breaking the law.
The Hong Kong Alliance previously organised a candlelight vigil each June, the only large-scale public commemoration on Chinese soil of the 1989 crackdown in Beijing.
More than a dozen activists had already been convicted over the banned vigil, most of whom pleaded guilty, including outspoken activist Joshua Wong, who was given 10 months in jail for taking part. He was already in prison after a previous conviction on other charges related to his activism.
Two other activists in the case, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, have fled the city.
Lai’s Apple Daily was forced to shut down in June after police froze its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives. Police also accused the individuals of foreign collusion to endanger national security.
The Hong Kong Alliance disbanded in September, amid accusations from the government that the organisation was working for foreign interests. Leaders of the alliance categorically denied the accusations.
Lai, 73, is currently serving a separate 14-month jail term for other convictions earlier this year also related to unauthorised rallies in 2019, when hundreds of thousands repeatedly took to the streets in the biggest challenge to Beijing since the British handed over the city to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework.
Under that arrangement, Beijing promised that the territory could retain its freedoms not found on the mainland for 50 years, but has largely reneged on that pledge by severely curtailing free speech and barring pro-democracy politicians from office.
China last year passed a broadly defined national security law which has been viewed as codifying Beijing’s repressive tactics, effectively ending Western-style civil liberties in Hong Kong.