Jimmy Lai gets a year in prison for pro-democracy protests

Domestic News

Some of Hong Kong’s most senior and prominent pro-democracy leaders have been given jail time or suspended sentences for their participation in demonstrations or on national security law offenses. Beijing is getting real.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

At the grand old age of 75, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英 Lí Zhìyīng) is going to be jailed for 12 months in prison for taking part in an unauthorized gathering during the 2019 pro-democracy protests, and for violating Hong Kong’s new national security law. He was sentenced today after being arrested on these charges in February 2020 (at which time we interviewed his head of operations in Hong Kong).

Other Hong Kong public figures — including veteran lawyers and politicians — who were sentenced today in connection with protests or on national security law charges include:

  • Eighty-two-year-old barrister and lawmaker Martin Lee (李柱銘 Lǐ Zhùmíng), who was given a suspended sentence of 11 months.
  • Pro-democracy activist and former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人 Lǐ Zhuórén), who helped organize annual June 4 candlelight vigils, and was given 14 months.
  • Former lawmakers “Longhair” Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄 Liáng Guóxióng), Cyd Ho (何秀蘭 Hé Xiùlán), and Au Nok-hin (區諾軒 Ōu Nuòxuān), who were given jail sentences of between 8 and 18 months.
  • Lawyers Albert Ho (何俊仁 Hé Jùnrén) and Margaret Ng (吳靄儀 Wú Ǎiyí) and former lawmakers Leung Yiu-chung (梁耀忠 Liáng Yàozhōng) and Yeung Sum (楊森 Yáng Sēn), who were given suspended sentences.

Under the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020, Hong Kong residents can be held liable for speech or action deemed secessionist, subversive, or terrorist. Colluding with hostile foreign political forces is punishable, too.

What does this mean for Hong Kong?

Beijing has had enough messing around: If it takes serious time behind bars for a septuagenarian to convince Hong Kong’s journalists, businesspeople, politicians, and students that there is no room for dissent, so be it.

What to watch for: The next step downhill for civil society in Hong Kong and for Jimmy Lai could be the destruction or forced sale of media assets in Hong Kong owned by Lai’s Next Media/Apple Daily group.

If that happens, can the neutering of the South China Morning Post be far behind?