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Hong Kong democracy leaders given jail terms amid Beijing crackdown

Their convictions and sentencing were the latest blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement.
Image: Former lawmaker and barrister Martin Lee and, former lawmaker Albert Ho arrive at West Kowloon court ahead of a sentencing hearing
Former lawmaker and barrister Martin Lee and former lawmaker Albert Ho at West Kowloon court on April 16, 2021 in Hong Kong.Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

HONG KONG — Nine of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates were sentenced to jail terms Friday for organizing a march during the 2019 protests that triggered a crackdown from Beijing.

Those sentenced include the city’s so-called “father of democracy” Martin Lee as well as pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

They were found guilty earlier this month of organizing and participating in a massive protest 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 protest was not authorized by the police.

Their convictions and sentencing were the latest blow to the city’s flagging democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker known for his advocacy of human rights and democracy in the city, had his sentence of 11 months in prison suspended after his age was taken into consideration.

Lai, the founder of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Prior to sentencing, he was remanded in jail on other charges, including collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs — a new crime under a national security law imposed on the city in 2020 by the central government in Beijing.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist and former lawmaker known for helping to organize annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Lawyers Albert Ho and Margaret Ng both had their 12-month jail sentences suspended. Former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was sentenced to 18 months, while another former legislator, Cyd Ho, was given a jail sentence of eight months.

Two other former lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who previously pleaded guilty were also given jail sentences. Au was sentenced to 10 months in prison, while Leung’s eight-month jail term was suspended.

While Hong Kong's government dropped the extradition bill in the face of widespread opposition, demonstrators expanded their list of demands to include electoral reforms for the chief executive and an inquiry into police tactics targeting protesters.

Those were sternly refused by the authorities and protests grew increasingly violent until the opposition prevailed in local district council elections.

Beijing then imposed a sweeping national security law, and Hong Kong authorities postponed elections for the Legislative Council, citing coronavirus precautions.

Most opposition figures have since been jailed, intimidated into silence or sought asylum abroad and authorities have decreed that only those considered to be true Chinese patriots will be allowed to hold office in future.