Embattled Hong Kong has turned the screws on a spirited pro-democracy activist yet again. It thus comes about that the island nation’s media mogul, Jimmy Lai, has been sentenced to 14 months in prison for participating in an unauthorised assembly in 2019. At 73, he is said to be serving time for having participated in other demonstrations that year.
He will serve part of his new sentence consecutively, which implies that Lai faces a total of 20 months in jail. Both the charge and the verdict have been carefully calibrated. The verdict has been pronounced as mainland China is increasingly cracking down on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. Lai happens to be among 10 prominent activists who were sentenced on Friday for participating in an unlawful assembly on 1 October 2019.
Others include Figo Chan, Leung Kwok-hung, known as “Long Hair”, and Lee Cheuk-yan, who were sentenced to 18 months in jail. Leung and Lee are currently both in jail and will also serve their sentences consecutively. The sentence, therefore, is concordant with the agenda of mainland China towards its protectorate.
At the sentencing on Friday, Judge Amanda Woodcock said she found claims by some of the defendants that their march on 1 October would be peaceful to be “naïve and unrealistic”. The protests on China’s national day witnessed major clashes between protesters and police, with the police chief later calling it “one of Hong Kong’s most violent and chaotic days”. The tycoon faces at least two other charges imposed under the country’s new national security law, which can carry a maximum term of life in prison.
Lai is one of the most prominent persons to be arrested under the law, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It makes it easier to punish protesters, and in the event curtails Hong Kong’s autonomy. Estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, Lai made his initial fortune in the clothing industry and later ventured into media and founded Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, a well-read tabloid that is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.
Earlier this month, authorities froze assets belonging to Lai, including his bank accounts and his stake of 71.26 per cent in Next Digital ~ estimated to be worth $ 45 million. Quite obviously with Beijing’s prodding, the screws were turned on Friday both on Lai and his financial assets. In his last interview with BBC before he was sentenced to jail, he said he would not give in to intimidation.
“If they can induce fear in you, that’s the cheapest way to control you and the most effective way and they know it. The only way to defeat the way of intimidation is to face up to fear and don’t let it frighten you,” he said. He has succinctly sized up Hong Kong’s praxis ~ at the behest of China ~ against the movement for the restoration of democracy.