Trial of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai begins
Jimmy Lai, a media magnate who supports democracy, has begun his long-awaited trial in Hong Kong on allegations that he “colluded with foreign forces.” If proven guilty, the 76-year-old, who has been incarcerated since December 2020, could face life in prison.
National Security Law, which China has been accused of using to stifle dissent, led to the arrest of Mr. Lai. His case is widely regarded as a measure of the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary and has sparked international outrage.
In response to significant pro-democracy demonstrations in 2020, Beijing enacted the NSL. The Chinese government maintains that the legislation is essential for quelling unrest. It considers Mr. Lai to have attempted to undermine China’s national security as a traitor. However, Mr. Lai’s case is cited by critics as further evidence of Beijing’s increasing control over Hong Kong.
According to Mr. Lai’s legal team, his right to an impartial hearing was denied. They highlight the denial of his preferred legal counsel subsequent to Beijing’s prohibition on his engagement of a United Kingdom attorney, and the fact that he is awaiting trial before three judges personally selected by John Lee, the leader of Hong Kong.
“Jimmy Lai, a publisher and prominent journalist who is known for his dissenting views, has been the target of deliberate efforts to obstruct his lawful exercise of freedom of association and expression,” he further stated.
Having been born in China and raised in Hong Kong, Mr. Lai is currently a citizen of the United Kingdom. Sebastian Lai, his son, has been advocating for intervention by the British government on his father’s behalf. His encounter with Mr. Cameron earlier this month infuriated Beijing.
Mr. Lai, a prominent figure who openly criticised the Chinese Communist Party, is among the most notorious individuals to have been apprehended in violation of Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Mr. Lai is additionally confronted with a sedition allegation under a law from the colonial era, which is predicated on his tweets, hosted interviews, and articles featured in Apple Daily. The Chinese-language tabloid criticised Beijing and called for international sanctions against Chinese and local officials.
In June 2021, police froze $2.3 million of its assets, stormed its offices, and detained many top editors on suspicion of “colluded with foreign forces” to damage national security, forcing the publication to close.
Mr. Lai has been detained in solitary confinement at a maximum-security penitentiary for over a thousand days, ever since his apprehension in August 2020. The trial, which has been postponed for one year, is anticipated to last approximately eighty days. Already, there have been demands for his release.
Human Rights Watch has termed the trial of Mr. Lai “absurd.” Maya Wang, the China director of the organisation, urged “concerned governments” to exert pressure on authorities to dismiss the charges against Mr. Lai, a development that has “significantly harmed press freedom in Hong Kong,” according to her.
The trial of Mr. Lai commences two weeks subsequent to the verdict of the Hong Kong 47, an additional protracted national security trial involving pro-democracy figures. In March, a verdict is anticipated. Hong Kong police issued a new set of bounties for information leading to the apprehension of five exiled pro-democracy activists last week.