HONG KONG — Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media figure, and several of Hong Kong’s most prominent opposition campaigners were sentenced on Friday to prison terms of eight months to 18 months for holding an unauthorized peaceful protest.
Supporters of the defendants say the prosecutions are the latest sign of the fundamental transformation that Beijing has sought to impose on Hong Kong. Until recently, the city had long been a bastion of free speech. Now, the sentences send an unmistakable message that activism carries severe risks for even the most internationally recognized opposition figures.
The court sentenced Mr. Lai, 73, a media tycoon who founded Apple Daily, an aggressively pro-democracy newspaper, to 12 months in prison. Martin Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer, often called Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” was handed a suspended 11-month prison term, meaning he would avoid being put behind bars if he is not convicted of another crime in the next two years.
overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system to cement the pro-Beijing establishment’s grip on power. Protests have been largely barred during the pandemic, and self-censorship in the media and arts, which are under intense official pressure, is a growing concern.
Over a period of months in 2019, hundreds of thousands of people joined antigovernment demonstrations in one of the greatest challenges to the Communist Party in decades. The sentences imposed on Friday, added to the measures already taken against dissent, are likely to chill participation in such protests in the future.
“It’s very clear that the approach has changed radically, not just by courts and police,” said Sharron Fast, a media law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. “The emphasis is on deterrence; the emphasis is on punishment. And with large-scale assemblies, the risk is very high.”
a march on Aug. 18, 2019, that followed a gathering in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. The rally in the park had been permitted by the police, but the authorities, citing the violence at earlier protests, had not approved plans for demonstrators to march about two miles to government headquarters afterward.
He has traveled the world, including many trips to Washington, to lobby for that cause. Such internationally focused activism is now banned under the national security law.
Mr. Lai, the media mogul, was smuggled into Hong Kong from mainland China as a child and worked his way up from factory laborer to clothing company tycoon. He then put his wealth into crusading, tabloid-style publications that have been sharply critical of the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Mr. Lai also faces a fraud case and charges of collusion with a foreign country under the security law for allegedly calling for sanctions against Hong Kong. In a separate hearing on Friday, prosecutors added two more national security charges, accusing Mr. Lai of conspiracy to commit subversion and obstructing justice.
In the illegal assembly case, the court rejected defense arguments that the procession after the rally was necessary to help protesters safely clear out of the crowded park, or that potential imprisonment for a nonviolent march would infringe on the rights to free speech and assembly that have traditionally been protected in Hong Kong.
protests did devolve into widespread violence.
in a letter this week to his colleagues at Apple Daily, told them to be careful because “freedom of speech is dangerous work now.”
“The situation in Hong Kong is becoming more and more chilling,” he wrote. “The era is falling apart before us, and it is therefore time for us to stand with our heads high.”
HONG KONG — Teddy bears clad in black police riot gear, on sale for more than $60 apiece. Messages of gratitude to the authorities, pasted by children onto the walls of their schools. Uniformed police officers goose-stepping in formation, accompanied by a counterterrorism drill complete with a helicopter and hostage simulation.
This is National Security Education Day in Hong Kong, the first since the central Chinese government imposed a wide-ranging security law on the territory last year.
The law, a response to months of fierce and sometimes violent antigovernment protests that began in 2019, has become synonymous with the authorities’ efforts to clamp down on dissent and ensure staunch loyalty. And the panoply of activities on Thursday indicated how they plan to do so: with a mixture of cutesy cajolery and overt shows of force, for a law that an official once said should hang over Hong Kongers like a “sword of Damocles.”
“Any ‘hard resistance’ that undermines national security will be struck down by the law. Any ‘soft resistance’ will be regulated by the law,” Luo Huining, the central government’s top official in Hong Kong, said at a ceremony kicking off the day’s events.
arrest around 100 people, gut the political opposition and remake Hong Kong’s electoral system.
frequently deployed in 2019.
show of goose-stepping. Traditionally, many of the disciplined services in Hong Kong, a British colony until it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, had marched in the British style. But the Chinese Army is known for the distinctive goose-step, in which the leg does not bend at the knee.
“After enjoying this wonderful performance,” an official website for National Security Education Day promised, viewers would be led inside to view armored vehicles, the explosives disposal team and recruitment information.
riot-gear-clad teddy bear, a pair of zip ties strapped to its chest ($62); key chains engraved with crowd-control phrases like “Disperse or we fire” and “Warning: Tear smoke” ($4 each); and a set of 18 three-inch figurines, clutching rifles and shields and bearing police warning flags about illegal assembly (“festive special offer”: $114).
It seemed unlikely that any sort of protest would break out in such a heavily fortified location. Still, officials seemed eager to forestall even a hint of the so-called soft resistance Mr. Luo had singled out in his speech. As journalists waited to enter the open house, security officers asked some who were wearing yellow or black face masks — colors associated with the pro-democracy movement — to swap them for blue ones the authorities provided.
four pro-democracy activists tried to march through parts of downtown, bearing a poster that said “Without democracy and human rights, there is no national security.” They were followed by dozens of police officers.
In other parts of the city, schoolchildren — including those in kindergarten — were enlisted in the promotion of national security. Education has been a particular focus for the authorities, who have blamed what they call biased curriculums for turning Hong Kong’s youth against the government.
On Thursday morning, many schools hosted ceremonies to raise China’s national flag and sing the national anthem (which the Hong Kong government last year made a crime to disrespect).
At the Wong Cho Bau middle school, which is run by a pro-Beijing teachers’ union, the principal told students during a morning assembly that national security should be incorporated into every part of their curriculum, including geography and biology classes, as well as weekly flag-raising ceremonies.
“These daily accumulations can help us construct our own national concept and identity, so as to achieve prosperity and glory for the country,” said the principal, Hui Chun-lung. “So everybody should study hard. If the youth are strong, then China is strong.”
Afterward, school officials showed off colorful slips of paper that students had filled out and pasted onto a “community mosaic wall.” “Please express your opinion toward the idea of ‘Support national security, guard our home,’” the prompt said.
In response, the students expressed their gratitude to the government and their relief that the pro-democracy protests had subsided. “Those people who protest everywhere are intolerable, destroying public places and hurting our home,” one student wrote.
Other students’ responses were even more effusive.
“I think the idea of supporting national security and guarding our home is extremely without problems! Support! Support! Extremely support!” one student wrote. “Whatever the national security law says, goes! I very much have no opinion!”
Joy Dong contributed research.
BEIJING — When Beijing set out last summer to quash resistance to its rule in Hong Kong, it imposed a national security law that empowered the authorities to arrest scores of democracy advocates and sent a chill over the city.
Now, less than a year later, China wants nothing less than a fundamental overhaul of the city’s normally contentious politics.
Zhang Yesui, a senior Communist Party official, announced on Thursday that China’s national legislature planned to rewrite election rules in Hong Kong to ensure that the territory was run by patriots, which Beijing defines as people loyal to the national government and the Communist Party.
Mr. Zhang did not release details of the proposal. But Lau Siu-kai, a senior adviser to the Chinese leadership on Hong Kong policy, has said the new approach is likely to call for the creation of a government agency to vet every candidate running not only for chief executive but for the legislature and other levels of office, including neighborhood representatives.
National People’s Congress, indicated that political turmoil in recent years had created the need to change the territory’s electoral system to ensure a system of “patriots governing Hong Kong.”
He defended Beijing’s right to bypass local officials in Hong Kong in enacting such legislation, just as the central government did in imposing the national security law in June. The congress will discuss a draft plan for changes to the electoral system when it gathers for a weeklong session starting on Friday.
with conspiracy to commit subversion after they organized an election primary in July.
The democracy campaigners had hoped to win a majority in the local legislature in elections last September, then block government budgets, a move that could force Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, to resign. The government later postponed those elections. But the city’s prosecutors said the activists’ strategy of trying to oust the chief executive amounted to interfering with government functions, an offense under the security law.
Opposition politicians have defended their tactics as legitimate and commonplace in democratic systems and argue that they are merely fighting to preserve the city’s relative autonomy, promised under a policy known as “one country, two systems.”
But some of Beijing’s staunchest allies in the city have accused the pro-democracy camp more broadly of putting Hong Kong’s future at risk by testing the Chinese government’s limits and forgetting that the city was not an independent country.
“We are not another Singapore,” said Leung Chun-ying, a former chief executive of Hong Kong, in a statement. “In Hong Kong, by pushing on the democracy envelope too far, and by attempting to chip away the authority of Beijing, in for example appointing the chief executive, many of the so-called democrats have become, in practice, separatists.”
Ronny Tong, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who now serves in the cabinet of Hong Kong’s chief executive, said he hoped Beijing would not make it impossible for opposition figures to run for office.
“If you were to overdo it, which is something I don’t want to see, we would become a one-party legislature,” he said. “That wouldn’t be in line with the spirit of one country, two systems, and therefore I have cautioned restraint to whoever wishes to listen.”
Still, he acknowledged that Hong Kong officials had little role to play. “We just have to wait and see.”
Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong. Vivian Wang contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
Myanmar’s women on the front lines
The hundreds of thousands of women at the forefront of Myanmar’s protest movement are sending a powerful rebuke to the country’s military junta.
The protesters represent striking unions of teachers, garment workers and medical workers — all sectors dominated by women. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. Three young women were among the at least 38 people killed on Wednesday, the biggest one-day toll since the Feb. 1 coup.
There are no women in the military’s senior ranks, and soldiers have systematically raped women from ethnic minorities, according to Human Rights Watch. More broadly, though, women’s roles in politics, business and manufacturing in Myanmar are growing. In elections in November, about 20 percent of candidates for the National League for Democracy, the party of the ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were women.
Lives lost: Ma Kyal Sin, 18, was one of the protesters killed on Wednesday. “She is a hero for our country,” said a close friend.
Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the Austrian district of Schwaz, which has been battered by a surge in infections, to determine how effective the inoculation is against the variant first found in South Africa.
The study in Austria is part of a much broader global effort to answer a crucial question as new variants emerge: Do vaccinations designed last year work against more recent mutations? If not, scientists will have to keep developing new versions of the inoculations.
Laboratory studies have shown that some vaccines that work well against earlier variants are less effective — though they still offer significant protection — against the variant known as B.1.351. It was found in South Africa in December and has become the dominant one there.
a three-day visit to Iraq today despite worries that the trip could become a superspreader event in a country where the coronavirus still rages.
The Vatican insists the trip will be safe, and the pope is planning a large Mass in a soccer stadium in the Kurdish town of Erbil. He will also very likely draw crowds to watch him pray in Qaraqosh, a town of Syriac Catholics, in the northern Nineveh Plains. Francis, 84, was vaccinated against Covid-19 in mid-January.
Such a visit has been the goal of many popes before him, who had to cancel plans because of security concerns in a nation ravaged by war. Francis accepted an invitation extended in July 2019.
Explainer: The Vatican believes the risks are outweighed by the chance to support one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. The ranks of Iraq’s Christians have dwindled to roughly a third of the 1.5 million who lived there during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.
a sensational royal rupture to Oprah Winfrey, the British royal family and the self-exiled couple are maneuvering furiously before the interview is broadcast on television to try to shape the narrative.
Was Meghan the victim of a cold, unwelcoming family that cruelly isolated her after she married Harry? Or was she a Hollywood diva who mistreated her staff and triggered a breach between the family and one of its most beloved young princes?
Here’s what else is happening
Algeria-France relations: President Emmanuel Macron of France has taken a further step toward reconciliation by declaring that Ali Boumendjel, a leading Algerian lawyer and nationalist, did not die by suicide in 1957, as France had long claimed, but was tortured and killed by French soldiers.
Iceland: More than 18,000 earthquakes have shaken Iceland in just over a week, leading scientists to believe that a volcanic eruption could be imminent.
Tsunami warning: Thousands of people were evacuated in New Zealand on Friday after an 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck in the South Pacific, prompting officials to issue tsunami warnings for coastal areas.
Hong Kong: A senior Communist Party official announced that China’s national legislature planned to rewrite election rules in Hong Kong to ensure that the territory was run by patriots — people loyal to Beijing and the Communist Party. The congress will discuss a draft plan when it gathers for a weeklong session starting today.
A new report suggests that the bigger the meteor that hits the moon, the brighter the trail.
Gender gap: Under a proposed E.U. law, companies in Europe could be sanctioned if they fail to pay men and women the same salaries for doing the same work. Separately, a new report suggests mothers in the U.S. are going back to work — and still doing most of the parenting.
Drag kings: Once an underappreciated part of the drag world, drag kings have found more exposure during the pandemic, with pageants moving online, and amid the popularization of drag for wider audiences.
What we’re reading: This deep-dive New Yorker article on the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s a chilling report on the near-future of the war-torn country.
Now, a break from the news
gets the eggplant Parmesan treatment — baked with marinara sauce, mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese until bubbling and browned.
Watch: The thoughtful documentary “Stray” uses the stray dogs of Istanbul to comment on the human condition.
Here are five tutorials for varying styles — each is a good workout.
Start your weekend with aplomb. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
Coping at home
Melissa Kirsch spends her days thinking up activities for us to do at home in The Times’s At Home newsletter. She shared some of her own strategies for living well during an uncertain time.
Think about how I want to look back on this time. I find myself consciously trying to do things that will make me feel better about this experience in the future. That may mean reading more or cooking more or trying to be creative about the ways that I connect with other people — like writing letters or meeting people for walks in the cold. I don’t want this year to turn into a blur of Zoom chats and Netflix.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about how close the end of the pandemic might be.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Fitting name for a hirsute guy (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Our travel writer Tariro Mzezewa joined the “Travel With Hawkeye” podcast to discuss plans for a vaccine passport.