On Monday, Jimmy Lai and six other pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong had one of their two convictions overturned over their involvement in a prominent protest in 2019. However, the convictions and sentences linked to their participation in the protest were upheld.
Lai, the founder of the now defunct Apple Daily newspaper; Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the city’s Democratic Party; and five former pro-democracy lawmakers had been found guilty of organising and participating in an unauthorised assembly.
The charges against Lai and other activists stem from a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong in August 2019 that attracted 1.7 million people.
The Court of Appeal said in a written ruling on Monday that there was no evidence the defendants played any role in planning, organising or issuing any instructions either before or during the march. However, the judges let stand an earlier court’s verdict that the seven had participated in the peaceful demonstration at the height of the city’s unrest.
Their decision means four defendants have their sentences from the organising conviction scrapped, and Lai will see his sentence reduced by three months.
Lai, 75, a recipient of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize, has been in a maximum-security prison since December 2020 and has been denied bail multiple times. He is currently serving concurrent sentences for attending “unauthorised” pro-democracy protests. He has also been convicted of sham fraud charges and is now awaiting trial for alleged sedition and offences under the National Security Law for his pro-democracy work.
In May, a group of 113 media leaders from 41 countries signed a joint statement coordinated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The statement calls for the support of Jimmy Lai, an important figure in the global fight for press freedom and aims to draw attention to the worsening state of press freedom in Hong Kong and beyond.
Since enacting its National Security Law in June 2020, the Hong Kong government has prosecuted at least 28 journalists and press freedom defenders and forcibly shut down two major independent media outlets, Apple Daily and Stand News, while at least five smaller media outlets ceased operations.
In June, the European Parliament adopted with a landslide majority (483 out of 534 present Members of the European Parliament voting in favour) the resolution calling on the Hong Kong government to “immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against Jimmy Lai.”
Jimmy Lai’s case was also raised during the 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva when Sebastien Lai, the son of the imprisoned publisher, addressed the Council during the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, on behalf of PEN International.
Earlier this year, Sebastian Lai also spoke to The Shift about the “systematic and precise” attack on media freedom happening in Hong Kong with the aim to persecute journalists and “threaten freedom and democracy”.
“My father has been in jail for two years because he used to own a pro-democracy newspaper called Apple Daily and NEXT Magazine,” Lai said of his father’s case. “When the Hong Kong National Security Law was passed in 2020, he was arrested and denied bail before trial.”
Lai faces up to life in prison if convicted in the national security trial scheduled to start on 25 September.