Hong Kong media mogul Lai defiant over Tiananmen vigil sentencing

Jimmy Lai was found guilty of unlawful assembly charges last week. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Jailed Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai said he was willing to "suffer the penalty" on Monday (Dec 13) as a court prepared to sentence him and a group of democracy activists for attending a banned Tiananmen vigil.

Lai, the 74-year-old owner of the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, was found guilty of unlawful assembly charges alongside former journalist Gwyneth Ho and prominent rights lawyer Chow Hang-tung last week.

He is among a group of eight activists who will be sentenced on Monday.

Their case wraps up a lengthy prosecution of some two dozen campaigners over a banned vigil last year and comes as Hong Kong authorities increasingly stamp out commemorations for democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops in the 1989 crackdown.

The activists were among thousands who defied a police ban to gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park in June 4, 2020.

Some gave speeches and interviews with reporters calling on Hong Kongers to light candles wherever they happened to be.

Others such as Lai only turned up at the event and lit a candle - an action judge Amanda Woodcock ruled nonetheless counted as "inciting" people to join an unlawful assembly because of his fame and notoriety.

During mitigation on Monday, Lai's lawyer Robert Pang read out a personal statement from the media mogul.

"If commemorating those who died for justice is a crime then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the penalty so I may share the glory burden of those young men and women who shed their blood on June 4," Lai said.

"Remember those who shed the blood but do not remember the cruelty... may the power of love prevail over the power of destruction."

'The candlelight will live on'

Chow, a lawyer who represented herself at the trial, used her mitigation to describe the convictions as "one step in the systemic erasure of history, both of the Tiananmen massacre and Hong Kong's own history of civic resistance".

She said Hong Kong's courts were "in effect affirming the unequal power wielded by the government" against critics by convicting people like her for taking part in protests.

"People moved by conscience cannot be deterred by jail," Chow added.

"Rest assured that the candlelight will live on, despite bans and ever more restrictive laws."

Five other defendants in the case had previously pleaded guilty.

A further 16 people, including jailed young democracy campaigner Joshua Wong, have already been sentenced in separate prosecutions.

The sentences, which will be delivered on Monday afternoon, will make minimal difference to most of the convicted.

Multiple defendants are already serving jail time for taking part in democracy protests.

Activists such as Lai, Ho, and Chow are also facing separate national security prosecutions that could lead to life sentences.

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