I am extremely unhappy to announce that a sentence of 16 months prison has been inflicted upon our author Benny Tai during the trial of Tai and his allies in Hong Kong. If you haven’t kept up with the latest news, here is a brief summary from Hillary Leung at Time Magazine:
Eight Hong Kong activists were handed sentences of up to 16 months in prison on Wednesday for their roles organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014. The activists were convicted on charges of public nuisance and incitement two weeks ago, a verdict that some perceived as underscoring eroding political freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese enclave under pressure from Beijing.
Law professor Benny Tai and retired sociology professor Chan Kin-man, co-founders of the “Occupy Central” protest that immobilized the city’s financial district five years ago, were both sentenced to 16 months, according to court documents. Reverend Chu Yiu-ming was also given 16 months, but his sentence was suspended for two years.
Two others received eight-month sentences, and two more had their sentences suspended. Another activist was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, and a ninth defendant’s sentencing was postponed for health reasons.
Tai has been the target of slanderous reporting by Chinese state news for his role organizing the peaceful pro-democracy protests of 2014, known by several names including the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Hong Kong. China’s attacks on Tai in the press and the trial of Tai and his allies are clearly part of a Chinese government campaign to squash his calls for democracy in Hong Kong.
In his closing argument in court, Tai was impassioned. He stood and spoke to the court in a non-violent style reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela by telling the court that “Non-violence was the overarching principle of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement. The act of civil disobedience, i.e. occupy Central, was the last resort of the movement.” You can read Tai’s entire closing argument in full here, where the eloquent Tai finished his defense with this line:
If we were to be guilty, we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong. I am not afraid or ashamed of going to prison. If this is the cup I must take, I will drink with no regret.
Ahead of his trial, Benny Tai was kind enough to answer some questions written by DC Founder and Editor-in-Chief Adrian Tawfik to help inform DC readers about what lies ahead for Benny and for democracy in Hong Kong. Take a look at that exchange here.