Jailed HK tycoon Jimmy Lai sentenced to 14 months for Oct. 1 illegal assembly

Jessie Pang and James Pomfret, Reuters

Posted at May 28 2021 01:16 PM

Jailed HK tycoon Jimmy Lai sentenced to 14 months for Oct. 1 illegal assembly 1
Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, leaves the Court of Final Appeal by prison van in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2021. Tyrone Siu, Reuters/File Photo

HONG KONG - Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai was given a new prison sentence of 14 months on Friday over his role in an unauthorized assembly on Oct. 1, 2019, during one of the city's pro-democracy rallies that year.

This month, Lai - who is already serving sentences adding up to 14 months for participating in similar demonstrations on Aug. 18 and Aug. 31, 2019 - and nine other activists pleaded guilty in District Court to organizing an unauthorized assembly.

He has been in jail since December after being denied bail in a separate national security trial. He faces three charges under the new law, introduced by China in 2020 in response to the protests, including collusion with a foreign country.

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.

Beijing sees him as a traitor and an anti-China instigator.

China says the sweeping security law, which punishes anything Beijing considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, was vital to restore stability and prosperity.

Judge Amanda Woodcock, who handed Lai his previous illegal assembly sentence in April, delivered the sentence on Friday. She said part of the new sentence would be served consecutively, meaning Lai faces a total of 20 months in prison so far.

Woodcock said she found claims by some of the defendants that their march on Oct. 1, China's national day, would be peaceful to be "naive and unrealistic."

There were major clashes that day, including a live round shot by a policeman at a protester swinging a long stick, the first use of a handgun after months of demonstrations.

Activists Figo Chan, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, who is known in Hong Kong as Long Hair, were sentenced to 18 months for each of two charges in this case, with the sentences to be served concurrently.

"Your Honor, for over 40 years I have strived for democratic reform in China," Lee told the court this week during one of the hearings. "This is my unrequited love, the love for my country with such a heavy heart."

The sentence comes two weeks after authorities froze assets belonging to Lai, including bank accounts and his 71.26 percent stake in media publisher Next Digital.

Hong Kong's security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank this month threatening up to seven years in prison for any dealings with the billionaire's accounts in the city, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The moves could imperil any attempt by the democracy activist to move offshore assets back home to prop up Next Digital's troubled Apple Daily tabloid, a staunch government critic, one of Lai's financial advisers said. 


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