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Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Context: Pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, the 73-year-old founder of Hong Kong's Apple Daily tabloid and an open critic of the party, was arrested and charged with "colluding with foreign forces" in December 2020 under Hong Kong's new national security law imposed by Beijing earlier that year.

  • His arrest drew condemnation from Western governments and international human rights groups.
  • Lai and others were found guilty earlier in April of organizing and participating in two protests in 2019 that had been banned by police.

The big picture: Lai was sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison and was given two additional charges, according to AP.

  • Also among those sentenced was Martin Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer often referred to as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” who received 11 months in prison, according to the New York Times.

Go deeper: With Hong Kong arrests, China outlaws democracy itself

Go deeper

Florida lawmakers send controversial "anti-riot" bill to Gov. DeSantis

Protesters confronting police in riot gear in May 2020 in Miami, Florida, during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd. Photo: Adam Delguidice/AFP via Getty Images

Florida state lawmakers sent a bill that stiffens penalties against violent protesters to Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) desk on Thursday, according to AP.

Why it matters: Opponents say the bill seeks to curtail the Black Lives Matter movement and the right to free speech and peaceably assemble. It comes amid the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd, which set off waves of protests across the country last summer.

California to remove word "alien" from state laws

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a September news conference in Oakland, California. Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

California is removing the word "alien" from its state laws and replacing it with words such as "noncitizen" and "immigrant," Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced.

Why it matters: The word "alien" began to be used in the 1990s "as a political dog whistle to express bigotry and hatred without using traditionally racist language," per a statement from Newsom's office.

6 hours ago - Health

Axios AM Deep Dive: Covid forever

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It was 563 days ago that the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by healthcare reporter Caitlin Owens, looks at our Covid future.

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