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Hong Kong pro-democracy figures given more jail time

May 28, 2021

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and several other activists have been charged with taking part in an "unlawful assembly" in connection with a 2019 street protest.

Jimmy Lai at a Hong Kong court, February 2021
Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai faces several charges related to his pro-democracy activismImage: Tyrone Siu/REUTERS

Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 additional months in prison Friday for his role in organizing anti-government protests in 2019.

Seven other pro-democracy activists, including youth campaigner Figo Chan, activist Avery Ng, as well as former pro-democracy lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, were also handed new sentences.

The latest prison sentences come amid growing concerns from international rights groups and Western countries about waning freedoms in Hong Kong.

Why were they sentenced again?

Lai and several other activists were charged with "incitement to take part in an unauthorized assembly."

The new sentencing involves a pro-democracy protest in October 2019 on China's "National Day" marking the anniversary of the founding of communist China.

Widespread clashes between protesters and police broke out during National Day protests that year. 

Although the 2019 march attended by the activists who were sentenced on Friday was mostly peaceful, the activists had assembled without the required official police permission.

Lai is already serving sentences adding up to 14 months after pleading guilty to charges involving two other protests in 2019.

Hong Kong protesters hold up five fingers
The pro-democracy protests on National Day in 2019 saw heavy clashes between protesters and policeImage: Kin Cheung/AP/picture-alliance

Why are Hong Kong protesters being arrested?

Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement erupted in summer 2019, with several straight weeks of massive street protests against the city's pro-Beijing government. 

Authorities in Beijing responded by targeting the movement's leaders and issuing a strict new national security law for Hong Kong that criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces to interfere with local affairs.

Dozens of pro-democracy figures have since been arrested under the law. Most of Hong Kong's prominent democracy leaders are either under arrest, in jail or have fled overseas.

A Hong Kong activist being escorted into a courtroom
Hong Kong activist Avery Ng, arriving at court, holds up Xi Jinping's book 'The governance of China'Image: Kin Cheung/AP/picture alliance

Lai, the founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, also faces separate charges under the security law, including including collusion with a foreign country. He has been sitting in jail since December 2020 after being denied bail on those charges.

Friday's ruling comes on the heels of Hong Kong lawmakers passing a new electoral law that reduces voting rights in the financial hub.

The law grants Beijing more power to appoint and remove lawmakers on Hong Kong's legislative council, while also reducing the number of seats elected by the public. 

wmr/rs (Reuters, AP, AFP)

In Hong Kong, 'the resistance will go on'