Billionaire Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been imprisoned over his role in pro-democracy protests.
Mr Lai, founder of opposition newspaper Apple Daily, was one of several activists who appeared in court on Friday who had been earlier found guilty of taking part in “unauthorised assemblies” during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
He was sentenced to 14 months in prison while nine others received jail time or suspended sentences.
The 73-year-old is a fierce critic of Beijing and his sentence comes as the mainland is increasingly cracking down on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.
Mr Lai has been in jail since December after being denied bail in a separate national security trial.
District court judge Amanda Woodcock said even though the 18 August assembly was peaceful there was a “latent risk of possible violence” and that a deterrent sentence and “immediate imprisonment” was appropriate.
Mr Lai’s repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups, who raised concerns over waning freedoms in the global financial hub, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said: “The wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of these activists underlines the… government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition.”
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The other defendants also found guilty, included prominent barrister Margaret Ng and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung.
They received sentences of up to 18 months. Ng, Leung Yiu-chung and Albert Ho were given suspended sentences.
The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.
Beijing has since consolidated its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law,
punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Supporters of the law say it has restored stability.
Mr Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting officials such as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
Prosecutors said he will face two additional charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to
obstruct the course of justice.
Earlier this week, Apple Daily published a hand-written letter Mr Lai sent to his colleagues from prison, saying: “It is
our responsibility as journalists to seek justice.
“As long as we… do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
It is “time for us to stand tall”, he wrote.