A Hong Kong billionaire and six others were sentenced to up to four years in prison Thursday over the Tiananmen Square protests 18 years ago, a rare prison term that was condemned by democracy groups in the Chinese territory.
Jimmy Lai, who owns newspaper Apple Daily, was among eight people jailed in the Hong Kong court case over three major pro-democracy protests in 1989 that critics and analysts said can only be described as political.
The convictions follow a years-long fight by Lai and other activists to clear their names, saying they were framed by a police investigation into the demonstrations. Some have said they feel in danger in Hong Kong because they once worked with U.S. organizations and have been labelled by the government as being illegal.
In the latest round of cases, prosecutors said Lai had conspired with other protesters to stop banners from being handed to the troops. The former saw 16 protesters convicted Thursday and the latter two in the next hearing.
There were signs that the standoff with the government over its subsequent crackdown may be drawing to a close after the conviction of former pro-democracy leader Fang Lizhi. He was sentenced last month to 2 1/2 years in prison, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he would serve any jail time.
Feng, who was one of the organizers of the 1989 demonstration, was found guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced to three years in prison.
Though Zhang Shuoming, the chief executive of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, who was responsible for handling the Tiananmen crackdown, was officially blamed by the government for the crackdown in 1988, the government allowed him to leave the country and live for nearly 20 years in the U.S. and the U.K. A film on his life has been shown many times.
Zhang’s legal team said last month that he will sue The Associated Press and related publications for defamation because they published a story on his arrest that he said was untrue.