He was one of five leading democrats jailed while another four were given suspended sentences for organising and participating in a massive march during 2019 anti-government protests.
They were found guilty earlier this month after charges relating to the march which saw an estimated 1.7 million people oppose a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China.
The sentences were swiftly met with international criticism.
Lai, the founder of Hong Kong‘s Apple Daily tabloid, was sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison and also slapped with two additional charges accusing him of conspiring to collude with foreign powers and another accusing him of helping local activists to escape the city.
Prior to sentencing, Lai was already being held on other charges, including a previous charge of foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs — a new crime under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed in 2020.
Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist and former lawmaker who helped organise annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison for his participation in the the two August 2019 marches.
Speaking ahead of the session, Cheuk-yan said: “I’m ready to face the penalty and sentencing and I’m proud that I can walk with the people of Hong Kong for this democracy.
“We will walk together even in darkness, we will walk with hope in our hearts.”
Hong Kong‘s last British governor, Chris Patten, said that the Chinese Communist Party’s “comprehensive assault” on the city’s freedoms and its rule of law remains relentless.
“This week, we have witnessed some of the most distinguished of the city’s peaceful and moderate champions of liberty and democracy placed in Beijing’s vengeful sights,” he said in a statement.
“The CCP simply does not understand that you cannot bludgeon and incarcerate people into loving a totalitarian and corrupt regime.”
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Yamini Mishra, said the sentences handed down Friday underlined the government’s intention to “eliminate all political opposition” in Hong Kong.