12/09/2021, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Jimmy Lai sentenced for (forbidden) Tiananmen vigil

Activists Chow Hang-tung and Gwyneth Ho  also found guilty. They had refused to plead guilty, unlike 16 other defendants  already been convicted. Elections on 19 December, Carrie Lam: A low turnout would espress popular satisfaction with the government's work.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The District Court today convicted Catholic media tycoon Jimmy Lai of participating in and inciting others to take part in last year's June 4 vigil for the Tiananmen massacre. The police had banned the traditional democracy rally under health prevention measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Along with the founder of Apple Daily, an independent newspaper pushed to closure by the government, Judge Amanda Woodcock also found democracy activists Chow Hang-tung and Gwyneth Ho guilty. Chow Hang-tung was vice-president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the group that organised the annual march to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. Under pressure from the authorities, who threatened to prosecute her under Beijing's draconian security law, the Alliance was disbanded in September.

Judge Woodcock had already sentenced 16 people for the same acts, all of whom had pleaded guilty in order to get a reduced sentence. Lai, Chow and Ho are the only defendants to reject the charges. They now face up to five years in prison and will be sentenced on 13 December.

Lai has been in prison for almost a year and faces other charges, including threatening national security. The Court rejected the defence of the three democratic personalities, who were present at the vigil in their personal capacity.  Judge Woodcock states their mere presence was an "act of rebellion and protest" against the police. An appeal of unconstitutionality was also rejected: Lai's lawyers said the sentence would violate his freedom of expression and assembly.

The Hong Kong Free Press reported that nearly 100 people lined up to attend the hearing.These included family members of the defendants and former employees of Apple Daily. In addition to the usual cheers, the crowd wished Lai, who turned 74 yesterday, well.

Meanwhile, from their exile abroad, several dissident democrats continue to call on the people of the former British colony to boycott the legislative elections on 19 December. With the recent electoral reform, the city authorities and the Chinese central government only allowed "patriotic" candidates, i.e. those loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, to vote.

Faced with the danger of a low turnout, which in a true democracy would be a blow to the credibility of the vote, or at least a symptom of widespread unease, Carrie Lam played down the situation. In an interview published on 7 December by the nationalist  Global Times tabloid, the leader of Hong Kong's executive said that a low turnout could well mean that citizens are "satisfied" with the government and do not feel the need to "choose different deputies" to control its work.

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