Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai and two pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of participating in illegal protests during mass anti-government protests in 2019. Lai’s plead of guilty to joining the city-wide demonstrations in all cities on August 31 that year comes a week after Lai and six more activists were found guilty in a separate court case of an invalid assembly.
Another activist who pleaded guilty was Lee Cheuk-Yan and Yeung Sum. “I pleaded guilty, but I did not make mistakes in confirming the rights of people for the peaceful procession, and I believe history will free me,” Lee said. The sentences in both cases are to be handed down later, carrying a minimum of five years in prison.
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The 2019 pro-democracy protests were driven by the extortion of Beijing’s tightening squeeze in freedoms promised to Hong Kong after returning to the Chinese government in 1997, and a drop in the semi-autonomous city became the biggest crisis since its handover.
Beijing has since consolidated the authoritarian hold in Hong Kong by imposing a new national security law, punishing anything considered separatist, subversion, terrorism, or collaboration with foreign forces with life in prison. Legal supporters of the law maintained that the situation had returned to stability after the 2019’s prolonged riots.
Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily tabloid, has been a frequent visitor to Washington, holding meetings with high officials such as the former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to support Hong Kong’s democracy, pushing Beijing to label him “traitor”. Other cases face Lai, who has been in prison for months after being rejected bail-in other cases, including charges of conspiring with foreign troops under new security law.
Repeated arrests have attracted criticism from the Western government and international rights groups. The August 31, 2019 clashes were some of the worst in Hong Kong, with law enforcement firing tear gas and water cannons at pro-democracy demonstrators who threw gasoline bombs.
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