Ex-Hong Kong Mogul Jimmy Lai Avoids Longer Jail Term for Now
(Bloomberg) -- A Hong Kong court sentenced democracy activist Jimmy Lai to 13 months in prison over his role in banned Tiananmen Square vigils last year, although the sentence won’t extend his time behind bars.
Veteran pro-democracy activists Chow Hang Tung, Gwyneth Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan were among a total of eight defendants sentenced Monday over their roles in events to commemorate the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Beijing. Lee, a former lawmaker, was given a term of 14 months, to be served concurrently with a previous sentence.
However, Chow and Ho, who weren’t already serving jail sentences, received terms of 12 months and six months, respectively.
Lai offered a defiant responses to his conviction before the hearing Monday, saying through his lawyer that he was willing to share the burden with those “who shed their blood on June 4th to proclaim truth, justice and goodness.” Chow denounced the convictions as “one step in the systemic erasure of history, both of the Tiananmen Massacre and Hong Kong’s own history of civic resistance.”
The former Apple Daily newspaper publisher has been a central target of the government’s campaign to punish democracy activists who have challenged Beijing’s authority in the former British colony. Earlier this year, the Next Digital Ltd. media company he founded and the Apple Daily, which was known for stories on the hidden wealth of high-ranking leaders in the ruling Communist Party, closed amid government pressure.
Thousands of people defied a police ban last year to hold the vigil for victims of the Tiananmen crackdown some three decades ago, an event that once drew tens of thousands of people annually. Democracy advocates say the authorities used rules for fighting the pandemic to curb the right to assembly in the former British colony.
The media tycoon’s presence “was a deliberate act to rally support for and publicly spotlight” the June 4 event, District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said in her earlier judgment. “He need not use words of incitement to intend to incite others.”
Authorities have charged 24 people for their role in the vigil last year, with Lai, Chow and Ho the only ones to plead not guilty. The other defendants, including former student activist Joshua Wong, have been handed jail terms ranging from four to 10 months. Three received suspended sentences.
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