UK calls for release of Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai as trial starts

By Isaac M December 18, 2023

Britain has called on China to end its prosecution of media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai whose long-awaited national security trial has started in Hong Kong.

The landmark trial for the leading China critic opened amid tight security, with 76-year-old Lai battling charges that he colluded with foreign forces.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron issued a statement calling for his release: “I am gravely concerned that anyone is facing prosecution under the National Security Law, and particularly concerned at the politically motivated prosecution of British national Jimmy Lai.

“As a prominent and outspoken journalist and publisher, Jimmy Lai has been targeted in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.

“I urge the Chinese authorities to repeal the National Security Law and end the prosecution of all individuals charged under it.

“I call on the Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution and release Jimmy Lai.”

Members of the media wait outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts during the national security trial of media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, in Hong Kong, China December 18, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik
Members of the media wait outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts

Queues formed outside the West Kowloon Law Court building the night before the closely anticipated trial, with scores of police also on the scene.

Hong Kong’s security chief warned last week any attempts to disrupt proceedings would not be tolerated.

Lai, the founder of now-closed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and one of the most prominent Hong Kong critics of the Chinese Communist Party, has faced much litigation since a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

He appeared calm and thinner than in previous court appearances as proceedings started, smiling and waving to the packed court.

Lai, flanked by four guards, was seen reading court documents as his lead lawyer, Robert Pang, addressed the three judges in wigs and red robes.

Read more:
China and Philippines trade accusations after vessels rammed in disputed South China Sea
US warns China of intervention after collision with ships from Philippines

“When fundamental rights are engaged, any protection must be interpreted generously in favour of Mr Lai and narrowly
for the prosecution,” Mr Pang told the court.

Lai has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Police officers stand guard outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts during the national security trial of media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, in Hong Kong, China December 18, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik
Police officers stand guard outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts

Lai was brought to the court building in a prison van in a police convoy.

A security cordon was set up around the court building, with uniformed, riot and plainclothes police, armoured vehicles and sniffer dogs on site.

Some supporters of Lai, who faces possible life imprisonment, lined up overnight in the winter chill to secure a
spot in the courtroom.

“Lai has been detained in prison for almost three years now. I want to witness this,” said Jolly Chung, a 29-year-old. “If he can’t come out and has to die in prison, I hope he can be proud of himself, and many Hong Kongers want to say thank you to him.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘China does threaten us in lots of ways’ – Lord Chris Patten

Western democracies, including the US, Britain and the European Union, are watching closely, with the trial looming as a fresh diplomatic flashpoint and a key test for Hong Kong’s judicial independence and freedoms under the sweeping national security law imposed by China in 2020.

Lai, who China’s foreign ministry recently called a “notorious anti-China element”, has been behind bars now for over 1,000 days.

A test case for freedom of the media

Jimmy Lai’s case is about far more than him – it is seen as a test case for press freedom and judicial independence.

His trial, expected to last months, is one of the most high-profile prosecutions in the Hong Kong government’s crackdown on opposition, and has been widely condemned by rights groups and other governments.

Lai, a prominent activist and publisher, founded the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.

It was following huge protests in Hong Kong four years ago that the media tycoon was convicted under a law imposed by Beijing to crush dissidents and quell unrest.

In recent years, the Hong Kong government has severely limited free speech and political opposition on the premise of maintaining national security.

The national security law was imposed by Beijing with the support of the Hong Kong government.

Despite intense criticism, hundreds of people have since been arrested under its broad umbrella, which outlaws acts of sedition, secession, foreign collusion and terrorism.

Lai’s trial is the first to contest a foreign collusion charge.

If he loses, Hong Kong will likely use him as justification to pursue and prosecute more “bad actors”.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *