HONG KONG -On Wednesday (April 6), Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai and two pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty to charges of taking part in an illegal march during mass anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
A week after Lai and six other activists were found guilty in a separate court case for unauthorised assembly, they entered a guilty plea to participating in the citywide unlawful rally on August 31, that year.Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum were the other activists who pleaded guilty.
“I plead guilty, but I’ve done no wrong in affirming the rights of people to peaceful procession and I believe history will absolve me,” Lee said.In both cases, sentences will be handed out later. Five years in jail is the maximum penalty that can be imposed.
The 2019 pro-democracy protests were sparked by Beijing’s tightening grip on broad freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, plunging the semi-autonomous city into its worst crisis since the handover.
Beijing has since tightened its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by enacting a broad national security law that punishes anything it considers to be secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces with prison terms of up to life.Supporters of the law say that it has brought peace to the country after the long period of unrest in 2019.
Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily tabloid, has been a regular visitor to Washington, where he has met with officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to gather support for Hong Kong democracy, leading Beijing to call him a “traitor.”
Charges of colluding with foreign powers under the new security law are among the other cases facing the tycoon, who has been in jail for months after being refused bail in another event.Western governments and international human rights organizations have criticized his repeated arrests.
The protests on August 31, 2019, were among the worst in Hong Kong’s history, with police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse pro-democracy demonstrators who hurled petrol bombs.