Washington, D.C., April 16, 2021 – In response to a Hong Kong court’s sentencing today of media owner Jimmy Lai to 14 months in prison, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“Forcing a prominent pro-democracy media entrepreneur like Jimmy Lai to spend more than a year in prison and hitting him with additional national security charges that could jail him for life can only be seen as an act of retaliation against an outspoken critic,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Chinese government, which now tightly controls Hong Kong, should reverse course immediately to preserve the tattered remains of the territory’s tradition of press freedom.”
The court sentenced Lai, founder of Next Digital Limited, which owns the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, for allegedly organizing and participating in two unauthorized pro-democracy marches in 2019, according to news reports.
National security charges filed against Lai in December 2020 are still pending, according to those reports, which said that authorities also filed two more charges in his case today for alleged collusion with foreign powers and helping local activists flee Hong Kong. Convictions under the national security law can result in life sentences, those reports said.
Eight other defendants were also convicted on charges of participating in unauthorized demonstrations, and several received suspended sentences, according to reports.
Journalists in Hong Kong have faced increasing repression and harassment since the passage of the new national security law on July 1, 2020, as CPJ has documented.