Hong Kong activists jailed for up to 14 months over banned massacre vigil

Jimmy Lai and Joshua Wong are handed jail terms for attending a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
By King Man Ho and Carmen Wu
Hong Kong activists jailed for up to 14 months over banned massacre vigil Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai is shown in a June 16, 2020 photo.

A court in Hong Kong on Monday handed down a 13-month jail term to pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai for "inciting" others to take part in a banned candlelight vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

The District Court sentenced Lai, who founded the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, alongside barrister and vigil organizer Chow Hang-tung, who was jailed for 12 months, and former Stand News journalist Gwyneth Ho, who received a six-month sentence.

All three had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charges, but were convicted last week.

Chow, who headed the now-disbanded vigil organizing group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was also convicted of "participating in an illegal assembly" by attending the event, along with fellow activist and former journalist Gwyneth Ho.

Lee Cheuk-yan, the former chairman of vigil organizers the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, now disbanded, was also jailed for 14 months for organizing last year's vigil during which thousands of people gathered to light candles and sing songs in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in defiance of a ban on public gatherings linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Alliance spokesperson Richard Choi was jailed and former protest leader Joshua Wong, who is currently in jail on a separate charge, were both handed 10-month sentences, while several other defendants were given sentences ranging from four months, two weeks, to nine months.

Two other activists in the case, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, have already fled the city.

Law, a former pro-democracy lawmaker now campaigning on behalf of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement in exile, told U.S. President Joe Biden's Summit for Democracy that Hong Kong had become a police state since the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed a draconian national security law on the city from July 1, 2020, ushering in an ongoing crackdown on political opposition and public dissent.

"Most democratic campaigners in Hong Kong with whom I've worked, such as Joshua Wong, Benny Tai and Jimmy Lai, are detained and facing life imprisonment as I speak," Law told the summit, sparking vitriolic criticism from Beijing, which slammed the U.S. for giving a platform to a "Hong Kong fugitive."

"My experience embodies a prime example of how a city once believed to be the freest in Asia can deteriorate into an authoritarian police state right in front of our eyes," he said.

He warned the international community that they should unite to defend democratic values to push back against growing CCP influence overseas.

The 32-year-old Alliance stands accused of acting as the agent of a foreign power, with leaders Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan arrested on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and the group's assets frozen.

The annual vigils it hosted often attracted more than 100,000 people, but the gatherings were banned in 2020, and the group disbanded in September, the latest in string of civil society groups to disband following investigation by national security police.

The law forms part of Beijing's claims that recent waves of popular protest for greater democracy and against the erosion of Hong Kong's promised freedoms were instigated by hostile foreign powers intent on undermining CCP rule and destroying social stability in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai and several senior journalists at the now-defunct Apple Daily face charges of "collusion with foreign forces" under the law, after the paper called in editorials for sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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