Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and eight other pro-democracy activists were sentenced on Friday for illegal assembly.

Lai received a 12-month jail term.

The activists were found guilty earlier this month of organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies, including one in August 2019, where an estimated 1.7 million people marched in opposition to a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

The protests sparked a widespread crackdown.

First sentence for Lai

Lai is one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists. He has been in jail since December 2020 after being denied bail in a separate national security trial. It is the first time he receives a sentence.

Lai was found guilty in two separate trials earlier in April for participating in illegal assemblies on August 18 and August 31, 2019.

Friday’s sentencing marks the latest move in the ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the global financial hub.

Also among the defendants was Martin Lee. The 82-year-old barrister is known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong and was once chosen by Beijing to help write the city’s mini-constitution. He was jailed for 15 months.

‘The worst is yet to come’

Human rights lawyer Albert Ho, who also faced sentencing, told DW that “there is no room for optimism nowadays in Hong Kong.”

“We are facing a very difficult time and the worst is yet to come,” said Ho.

“The police are now vigorously abusing their power to try to stifle our rights and freedom of assembly,” Ho told DW. “Whenever there is any breach of the regulation, although the breach was in the form of very peaceful demonstrations, the prosecution will proceed to prosecute very vigorously.”

He criticized the basis of many of the charges against other activists, and said that local judges are under pressure to prosecute within Hong Kong. Those who can’t be sentenced under the local system could risk being taken back to China for sentencing under the national security law.


Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像

Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho raise their hands in a symbol of the “Five demands, not one less” as they arrive at the West Kowloon Courts for sentencing in a landmark unlawful assembly case, in Hong Kong, April 16, 2021.

“Even the charges are very shaky. Their evidence is flimsy,” he said. “All of this created a very chilling atmosphere. I won’t say that our judicial system has completely fallen apart, because there are still judges who are professional and courageous. However, the pressure is tremendous.”

Ho also called on activists to keep speaking out against the crackdown and China’s attempts to clinch power in the semi-autonomous territory, despite the risk of sentencing or arrest.

“I know it’s difficult and I know many people will be scared. Yet, we have to protect this place and to protect the values that we treasure. Without these values, Hong Kong will no longer be the Hong Kong that we love,” he said.

DWs William Yang contributed to this story

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

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Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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