Hong Kong newspaper publisher and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai and two pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty on April 7 to charges of participating in an illegal march during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The plea of guilty to joining the citywide unlawful protest on Aug. 31 that year comes a week after Lai and six more activists were found guilty in a separate court case over unauthorized assembly.
The other activists who pleaded guilty were Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum.
“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.
Sentences in both cases are to be handed down later. The maximum possible punishment is five years in prison.
The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.
Beijing has since consolidated its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law, punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Since the law’s promulgation, the government has sought to crush the opposition movement, barred protests and curbed political expression, and overhauled the city’s electoral system to ensure only pro-China “patriots” govern Hong Kong.
Lai, a Catholic is the founder of the Apple Daily tabloid. The 73-year-old had been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
Other cases facing Lai, who has been in jail for months after being denied bail in another case, include charges of colluding with foreign forces under the new security law.
His repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups.
Lai was born to a rich family in mainland China in 1947. His family suffered once the communists took power in 1949, with his mother being sent to a labor camp. At the age of 12 he was smuggled into Hong Kong.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, baptized him in 1997 the same year that the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule.
Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, also a Catholic, was among pro-democracy campaigners, including Lai, who were last week found guilty on charges related to illegal assembly.