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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.

Pelosi's Republican playbook

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Republicans fight among themselves, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is showing the myriad ways she deals with the GOP herself.

Between the lines: We've seen Pelosi cut opponents off at the knees, like she did with President Trump, or pretend to forget their names, as she did to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Now she's feeding oppo research against her House counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), so others can use the same harsh rhetoric to frame the Republicans as the party of dysfunction.

Exclusive: Houston mayor to lead Black mayors group

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a private funeral for George Floyd. Photo: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Pool/Getty Images

The mayor of the city where George Floyd was raised is taking over a group that represents 500 Black mayors in the U.S. amid national pressure to revamp police departments.

Why it matters: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will become the new president of the African American Mayors Association as municipalities across the country examine police reforms and deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

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