Hong Kong media mogul Lai defiant at Tiananmen vigil sentencing
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Hong Kong (AFP) – Jailed Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai said he was proud to be punished as a court handed out fresh jail sentences on Monday to eight prominent democracy activists for attending a banned Tiananmen vigil.
Lai, the 74-year-old owner of the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, was found guilty of unlawful assembly charges alongside former journalist Gwyneth Ho and prominent rights lawyer Chow Hang-tung last week.
He was among a group of eight -- most of them already behind bars for protest-related offences -- who were given terms ranging from four to 14 months on Monday afternoon.
Their case wraps up a lengthy prosecution of some two dozen campaigners over a banned vigil last year as Hong Kong authorities stamp out commemorations for democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops in the 1989 crackdown.
The activists were among thousands who defied a police ban to gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park on June 4, 2020.
Some gave speeches and interviews with reporters calling on Hong Kongers to light candles wherever they happened to be.
Others such as Lai only turned up at the event and lit a candle -- an action judge Amanda Woodcock ruled nonetheless counted as "inciting" people to join an unlawful assembly because of his fame and notoriety.
During mitigation on Monday, Lai's lawyer Robert Pang read out a hand-written letter his client had penned from prison which his team later released to reporters.
"If commemorating those who died because of injustice is a crime, then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the punishment of this crime, so I may share the burden and glory of those young men and women who shed their blood on June 4," Lai wrote.
"Remember those who shed the blood but do not remember the cruelty... may the power of love prevail over the power of destruction."
'The candlelight will live on'
Chow, a lawyer who represented herself at the trial, used her mitigation to describe the convictions as "one step in the systemic erasure of history, both of the Tiananmen massacre and Hong Kong's own history of civic resistance".
She said Hong Kong's courts were "in effect affirming the unequal power wielded by the government" against critics by convicting people like her for taking part in protests.
"People moved by conscience cannot be deterred by jail," Chow added.
"Rest assured that the candlelight will live on, despite bans and ever more restrictive laws".
Five other defendants in the case had previously pleaded guilty.
Judge Woodcock previously rejected the argument that authorities were curbing free speech, ruling last week that those who turned up in Victoria Park were taking part in "an act of defiance and protest against the police".
On Monday, she said the defendants deserved a "deterrent, punitive" sentence.
Lai received 13 months while Chow received a year behind bars.
Lee Cheuk-yan, a prominent activist from the Hong Kong Alliance, which used to organise the Tiananmen vigils, received the longest sentence of 14 months.
However, the new jail terms will make minimal difference to most of those in the dock
Multiple defendants are already serving jail time and their new sentences run concurrently meaning most will only see a few extra weeks or months added.
Activists such as Lai, Ho, Chow and Lee also face separate national security prosecutions that could lead to life in prison.
A further 16 people, including jailed young democracy campaigner Joshua Wong, have already been sentenced in separate prosecutions.
Since the imposition of a new security law last year, authorities have also brought subversion charges against leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance -- the group which organised huge candlelight vigils in the city each June to remember those killed -- and shuttered a museum the group ran.
© 2021 AFP