Pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison by a Hong Kong court Friday for organizing an unauthorized assembly in 2019, bringing his total prison term to 20 months in combination with sentences over previous illegal assembly convictions.
Lai, the founder of the outspoken Apple Daily newspaper, pleaded guilty earlier this month to the charge. He organized a march on Oct. 1, 2019, on Hong Kong Island at the height of the months-long anti-government protests.
He has been in jail since December while facing charges under the sweeping national security law.
Lai and nine other activists, including protest organizer Figo Chan and former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Ho, pleaded guilty at the same court earlier this month to organizing the unauthorized assembly. Some of them also pleaded guilty to inciting the assembly.
All of them were given prison sentences ranging from 14 to 18 months at the court Friday while two were given suspended sentences.
District court judge Amanda Woodcock, who delivered the sentences, said she did not agree with the submission from the defendants that wrote they believed a ban on holding a procession without police permission breached their constitutional right of freedom of assembly.
"They did call for a peaceful, rational and nonviolent procession, but how naive and unrealistic was that considering what was happening on a daily basis was the opposite," Woodcock also said, referring to demonstrations against a government-proposed China extradition bill that had been held for several months before the Oct. 1 march and rally.
"Hong Kong has changed, and the court has also changed," said former Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai, one of two who got a suspended sentence. "In the past, these kinds of convictions would carry a fine or community service order. The starting point of 18 months or even 24 months of prison sentence for unauthorized assembly conviction is record breaking."
He said the group may appeal against the sentencing.
The public procession on Hong Kong Island, which coincided with China's National Day, ended peacefully. However, anti-government protests carried on across the harbor on the Kowloon Peninsula turned into violent clashes with police, who fired live rounds.