A police officer stands guard outside High Court in Hong Kong on February 18, 2021. A court recently sentenced media owner Jimmy Lai to 13 months in prison for his alleged involvement in a banned vigil. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

CPJ’s Steven Butler: China’s sentencing of Jimmy Lai over Tiananmen Square vigil is ‘despicable’

Taipei, December 13, 2021 — In response to a Hong Kong court’s decision today to sentence Jimmy Lai, founder of the Next Digital media company and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, to 13 months imprisonment over his alleged connection to a 2020 vigil marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the verdict and called for Lai to be released immediately.

“China’s efforts to silence and punish media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai over a simple expression of commemoration for those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is despicable,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. “Hong Kong authorities should allow Lai to go free and drop all pending charges against him.”

The court convicted Lai of inciting people to join the banned vigil, according to news reports, which said that seven others were also convicted of organizing, joining, or inciting others to join the event, and received prison terms ranging from 4.5 to 14 months.

In a letter that his lawyer read in court, Lai denied joining the vigil, and said he solely “lit a candle light in front of reporters” to commemorate those who were killed. He added that, if commemorating those deaths was illegal, “then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the punishment of the crime, so I may share the burden and glory of those young men and women” who died in the massacre.

Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison term for two other charges relating to his alleged involvement with illegal demonstrations, and is awaiting trial on national security and fraud charges, according to CPJ research. If convicted on the national security charges, he could face life in prison.

Earlier this year, CPJ honored Lai with its 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.