Jailed Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was among eight democracy activists sentenced to new prison terms on Friday for participating in protests to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, which were followed by radical repression.
Lai, who is already behind bars for participating in previous protests, must now serve a total sentence of 20 months after pleading guilty to organizing an illegal rally on October 1, 2019.
Seven other prominent activists, including Figo Chan, a 25-year-old activist, as well as former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, were also sentenced to new prison terms.
Many gave hand signals of “victory” while going to court in a police van.
These new phrases are the latest in a relentless and successful Chinese campaign to quell dissent and dismantle the Hong Kong democratic movement.
Hong Kong was rocked by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 in Beijing’s most serious challenge to power since the city’s handover in 1997.
Clashes with police on China’s Oct. 1 National Day were among the worst in this period.
# photo1 This was a striking and embarrassing illustration of how huge swathes of Hong Kong’s population were seething under Beijing’s rule as the government celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.
As President Xi Jinping oversaw a massive military parade in Beijing, clashes between unconditional protests and police raged in Hong Kong that day.
The march in which the jailed activists took part on Friday remained largely peaceful. But he did not have official police clearance, a requirement in Hong Kong.
“It was naive to believe that a call for peaceful and rational behavior would be enough to ensure the absence of violence,” District Judge Amanda Woodcock said as she handed down prison sentences against the eight activists.
– Successful repression –
China has responded to the democracy rallies with a broad crackdown on Hong Kong, including the imposition of a sweeping national security law that prohibits dissent.
Hong Kong officials on Thursday banned the annual June 4 vigil marking Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on Tianamen Square, with Security Minister John Lee warning that the security law could be used against those who defy the ban .
Over 10,000 people have been arrested during democracy protests in Hong Kong, with around 2,500 convicted of various offenses.
Most of the city’s prominent Democratic leaders are either under arrest, in jail, or have fled overseas.
More than 100 people, including Lai, have been charged under the security law, which leads to life in prison.
Those sentenced to prison terms on Friday come from the more moderate wing of Hong Kong’s democratic movement. Four were already serving prison terms for participating in protests.
Many of them have spent decades defending nonviolence in their ultimately unsuccessful campaign for universal suffrage.
Figo Chan, for example, was a key figure in the Civil Human Rights Front, the coalition that organized some of the biggest rallies of 2019 when hundreds of thousands turned out.
# photo2Fans chanted “Add some oil!” – a Chinese phrase of encouragement – as the group was taken to court on Friday.
In a mitigation hearing earlier in the week, Chan accused Hong Kong’s unelected rulers of failing to give citizens a chance to voice their displeasure.
“If the government listened to people’s demands, then it would not be necessary for people to resort to violence to get the government to respond,” he told the court.
Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, said he does not regret the prospect of going to jail.
“For over 40 years, I have fought for democratic reform in China,” he told the court.
“This is my unrequited love, the love of my country with such a heavy heart. “
China says repression and the security law are necessary to restore stability.
He rejected demands for democracy and said the protests were started by “foreign forces” who want to undermine China.
Many Western countries claim that Beijing shredded its promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and autonomy under a “One Country, Two Systems” deal agreed to before the city was handed over in 1997.
© 2021 AFP