The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today vehemently condemned the 12-month jail term handed to Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai.

The magistrate’s court in West Kowloon in Hong Kong sentenced Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital media group, which publishes the Apple Daily, to 12 months for unlawful assembly. Lai was accused of helping organize mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in August 2019.

“The prison sentence handed to Jimmy Lai is part of a larger campaign of harassment and intimidation designed to shut down speech and expression critical of the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong authorities”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We condemn this sentence, and call for Lai to be released immediately. In its determination to bring Hong Kong into its authoritarian system, China is targeting influential pro-democracy voices such as Jimmy Lai. The international community should respond with swift condemnation and pressure China to end the crackdown in Hong Kong.”

The court  earlier this month convicted  Lai, who was arrested on August 10 under the National Security Law and had remained in custody.

In a handwritten letter to the Apple Daily staff from the prison on April 13, Lai asked his colleagues to stand tall. “Freedom of speech is a dangerous job. Please be careful not to take risks. Your own safety is very important”, he said in the letter published by the Apple Daily.

Police had arrested Lai at his home on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces”.  According to media reports, police arrested Lai’s elder son on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud while his younger son was detained on suspicion of collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security.

Lai is the first publisher to be arrested under the new law, which has attracted widespread condemnation from governments and civil society around the world. He has been arrested in the past, too. Lai was arrested along with at least 13 other pro-democracy figures on April 18 on charges of joining anti-government protests in 2019 sparked off by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

The police had also arrested Apple Daily CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Financial Officer Chow Tat-Keun along with two other senior members of the publication’s staff. Police also seized laptops, mobile phones and documents.

Following the enactment of the National Security Law, Chinese and Hong Kong officials had assured that the law will deal with only a few offenders and that the rights enjoyed by the residents of the territory, including press freedom, would not be affected.