Hong Kong group jailed over Tiananmen anniversary vigil

Image copyright AFP Image caption During the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, hundreds of students and others were killed

The Hong Kong leader of a pro-democracy group, Jimmy Lai, and seven others have been sentenced to 10 months’ jail in a case seen as part of a wider crackdown on civil society.

One of the group members was convicted of gathering around a fence after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and refusing to disperse.

The group helped lead a mass vigil in Hong Kong in 1989 to mark the anniversary of the crackdown.

President Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on political activity in recent years.

Sentencing was held on Monday after 18 months of legal wrangling over the case.

Lai and others were found guilty of organising a public gathering without first obtaining a permit, and of ignoring police orders not to interfere.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The sentencing was partly seen as a warning to pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong

A sixth defendant, Patrick Chan, was acquitted.

Lai’s lawyer, Joel Wong, said his client was “very shocked” at the ruling.

“He is not a leader. He has been trying to keep the peace in the society. On the one hand, we think it is logical, on the other hand, it is tough. If somebody doesn’t have the courage to plead, then it means they are not guilty.”

Mervyn Chan, the group’s secretary-general, was sentenced to six months in prison, while another was given a three-month suspended sentence.

Two other defendants were fined.

The group – who called themselves Love and Peace – organised mass gatherings after protests in Beijing against China’s rule in Hong Kong.

The vigil, a live feed of which was broadcast on television, was banned in Hong Kong and its organisers were arrested. The Hong Kong government argues that the vigil was unlawful.

Mak Yin-ting, one of the others convicted, said in a statement: “We regret that we cannot meet the people and help them on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests. I am terribly sad and shocked by this.”

Jimmy Lai’s conviction comes after jailed Taiwan independence activists Nathan Law and Lien Chan were found guilty of calling for self-determination in Taiwan.

The election in 2017 of Mr Xi as president was seen as a setback for free speech and the rule of law in the former British colony.

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