On Monday, Dec. 13, Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, along with seven others was sentenced by a Hong Kong court to 13 months in prison for urging participation in last year’s banned Tiananmen vigil.
The Hong Kong District Court handed out similar sentences to all the convicted with sentences of up to 14 months.
Lai, 73, was already serving a sentence for taking part in pro-democracy protests. In total, Lai is expected to serve 20 months.
Lawyer, Chow Hang-tung and former reporter Gwyneth Ho, were sentenced to 12 and six months respectively for participating in the vigil which thousands had attended. The annual vigil is held to memorialize victims of the Chinese army’s brutal crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests that occurred in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Former chairman of the now shuttered Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (The Alliance), Lee Cheuk-yan was also sentenced Monday. Lee received 14 months for organizing last year’s “unauthorized” assembly.
The peaceful candlelight vigil is held each June and is the only large-scale commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre held on Chinese soil. To date, more than a dozen activists have plead guilty to participating in the vigil and have been convicted including pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was sentenced to 10 months in jail for his participation.
Well known activists Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung fled Hong Kong to avoid persecution.
Lai was the founder of Apple Daily that’s assets were frozen and offices raided by Hong Kong authorities earlier this year. In June, Apple Daily’s headquarters in Hong Kong were swarmed by hundreds of Hong Kong police officers with authorities arresting several executives including its editor-in-chief in what was largely panned as a “blatant attack” on its editorial team.
Five directors of the pro-democracy paper were taken into custody at the time and were accused of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” Apple Daily reported at the time.
The primary tool utilized by authorities is the contentious National Security Law (NSL) which was imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020.
According to Chinese authorities the law is intended to safeguard national security and ensure social stability however was immediately wielded as a potent weapon against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
Justice Secretary, Teresa Cheng, said at a meeting of kindergarten and primary school teachers on Monday in Hong Kong that the NSL aimed to close national security loopholes “by effectively preventing, suppressing and imposing punishment for any act that endangers national security.”
The law has been used to impose harsh sentences on individuals that authorities deem a threat to China’s national security.
In November, Ma Chun-man, also known as “Captain America 2.0” was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for “inciting secession” by peacefully delivering multiple pro-independence speeches and posting similar content online.
Ma, a former food delivery worker, was the second person convicted and imprisoned under the NSL and was the first to be convicted based on speech alone.
Numerous organizations have been forced to close offices in Hong Kong out of fear for the safety of their employees.
In October, Amnesty International, after 40 years of operation, announced it would be closing its Hong Kong offices by the end of 2021, citing pressure from the national security law.
The soon-to-be closed office functioned to spread the word concerning issues regarding human rights among the citizens of the city, many of whom have donated to the organization.