HONG KONG -- Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai and nine other prominent democracy activists were sentenced on Friday to 14 to 18 months in prison for participating in an illegal protest on China's national day in 2019 as the city government pressed on with a crackdown on political dissent.
The protest took place in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2019, as the Chinese Communist Party celebrated the 70th anniversary of its rule. The demonstration eventually devolved into violent clashes across the city, with an 18-year-old protester shot in the chest by police.
Lai, the outspoken founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, is already serving a 14-month sentence over two other illegal assembly convictions. His new 14-month sentence will partly overlap with the earlier one, with a net extension of six months.
The 73-year-old faces a number of other charges including collusion with foreign forces under the city's national security law. A conviction in that case could result in life imprisonment.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong authorities froze key Lai assets in the territory, including his controlling stake in Next Digital, Apple Daily's parent company. Secretary of Security John Lee said Thursday that the authorities believed the assets "pertained to national security crimes."
Lai and his co-defendants in the latest case last week pleaded guilty to organizing an unauthorized assembly, with four pleading guilty to the additional charge of inciting others to take part. Each count carries a maximum prison term of five years.
Lai's co-defendants include former lawmakers Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung, Sin Chung-kai, Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum, as well as former district councilor Richard Tsoi and activists Avery Ng and Figo Chan of the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of the largest 2019 rallies.
Sin and Tsoi had their 14-month sentences suspended by Judge Amanda Woodcock.
In mitigation, defense lawyers argued that the defendants had always called for peaceful protest and only resorted to unlawful assembly after police repeatedly rejected applications for demonstrations.
In a mitigation letter submitted to the court earlier this week, Lee wrote that his "unrequited love" for his country has led him to strive for democratic reform in China for more than four decades, as he believed people's freedom and dignity should be protected. Leung in turn wrote that even though he pleaded guilty, "I do not admit wrongdoing ... because I have a clear conscience."