Hong Kong’s District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock carried out the sentencing, which is reduced by three months in mitigation.
Martin Lee, who helped launch the city’s largest opposition Democratic Party in the 1990s and is often called Hong Kong’s “father of democracy”, was given a suspended sentence of 11 months in the same case.
Mr Lai and Mr Lee are two of nine of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates who have been sentenced to jail for organising and taking part in the protests which triggered a harsh crackdown from Beijing.
Mr Lai is the billionaire owner of Hong Kong’s last opposition newspaper, Apple Daily, and an outspoken critic of Beijing.
The newspaper published a letter written by the 73-year-old tycoon from prison earlier this week, which said: “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice.
“As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
The defendants were found guilty earlier this month of organising and participating in the massive protest in August 2019, where an estimated 1.7 million people marched in protest against a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.
Police did not issue authorisation for the protests, which took place in seven districts in Hong Kong and resulted in numerous flights being cancelled due to strikes and protests at the Hong Kong International Airport.
The arrests of a number of high-profile pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, as well as incidents of police brutality against protesters, triggered even more unrest in the city and demonstrations carried on for months.
The controversial extradition bill was formally withdrawn by the Hong Kong authorities in September 2019 in hopes of calming the situation. But the latest convictions and sentencing of prominent activists mark the latest blow to the city’s democracy movement, amid an ongoing crackdown by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities on dissent.
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