Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, who pleaded guilty more than a year ago to conspiring with media mogul Jimmy Lai, are set to be sentenced after the Apple Daily founder stands trial in December under the Beijing-enacted national security law.
Li and Chan were brought before High Court judge Alex Lee on Friday, when the court discussed sentencing arrangements for the duo in a high-profile national security case involving Lai.
In August last year, Li and Chan pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy with Lai to ask external forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland China between July 2020 and February 2021. Other people involved in the alleged offence included Lai’s aide Mark Simon and self-exiled activist Finn Lau.
The media tycoon indicated last month that he is set to deny the foreign collusion charge and will face a 30-day trial at the High Court, where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Lai’s trial will begin on December 1 and is expected to end in mid-January, prosecutor Crystal Chan told the court on Friday.
Judge Lee said he intended to adjourn the sentencing of Li and Chan until after the conclusion of Lai’s trial. The lawyers for the defence, including Senior Counsel Robert Lee and barrister Alain Sham, agreed that such an arrangement was “sensible.”
“[The defence] will have more room for manoeuvre as far as mitigation is concerned,” Lee said, adding that meting out punishment for Li and Chan after Lai’s trial would allow the court to better assess the case.
While the trial length was set, Lee said it would be difficult to determine when a judgement would be handed down. The defence also pointed out that the trial may overrun.
The court eventually set a tentative date and asked the defendants and their representatives to return to court on January 12, 2023, to evaluate the progress of the case. If Lai’s trial was still underway at that time, the court would adjourn sentencing again.
Li and Chan have been held in custody for more than a year pending sentencing. The court has adjourned their case several times while it waited for Lai’s case to be committed to the High Court. He will be the first person in Hong Kong to be tried for foreign collusion.
Lee also raised the issue of the one-third sentence reduction for defendants who plead guilty. An appeal against the sentence in a separate national security case is set to be heard next month, when university student Lui Sai-yu will challenge his five-year jail term for inciting secession.
The trial judge originally jailed Lui for three years and eight months, using five years as a starting point and taking into account his guilty plea. But the judge walked back the sentence discount as she ruled that Lui’s offence was of a “serious nature” and – as per the national security law – must warrant a minimum sentence of five years.
Activist Li made his first court appearance in April last year after serving seven months in a Shenzhen prison for illegally crossing the border with mainland China.
He was one of the 12 Hongkongers captured by the Chinese coastguard in August 2020 while trying to flee to Taiwan in a speedboat. Most of them were facing protest-related charges in Hong Kong.
According to the admitted facts of the case, Lai was the “mastermind” behind the conspiracy and provided “substantial financial support” to an international propaganda campaign that sought intervention from foreign countries over alleged police brutality during the 2019 protests and unrest.
The campaign later morphed into a call for foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland China, an offence under the security legislation that came into force on June 30, 2020. The national security law also criminalised subversion, secession and terrorist acts, which have been broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.