Jimmy Lai © Getty Images

Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai’s sham trial a further attack on press freedom

Ahead of Monday’s national security trial of Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and founder of the defunct Apple Daily newspaper, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for China, Sarah Brooks, said:

“This case has been an attack on press freedom and freedom of expression from the very start. The Hong Kong authorities must release Jimmy Lai immediately and unconditionally and expunge his criminal convictions. No one should be prosecuted solely for exercising their human rights.

The prosecution of Jimmy Lai shows how Hong Kong’s repressive National Security Law is being used to stifle press freedom and crush civil society.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for China

“The prosecution of Jimmy Lai shows how Hong Kong’s repressive National Security Law is being used to stifle press freedom and crush civil society. He has already been arrested for his newspaper’s journalism, denied the right to bail and prevented from choosing his own lawyer. Now he faces a sham trial presided over by a judge handpicked by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

“This comes on top of separate politically motivated convictions over ‘unauthorized assemblies’ and fraud, and after more than a year of delays that have taken the start date of this trial past Lai’s 76th birthday.

“Lai is the most high-profile public figure prosecuted under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, and the world will be watching. His trial epitomizes the rapid decline of rule of law in Hong Kong.

“It seems clear that Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily were targeted due to the newspaper’s criticism of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments – this is an unjustifiable restriction of the right to freedom of expression.”

Background on Jimmy Lai’s trial

Jimmy Lai’s national security trial is scheduled to begin on 18 December, more than three years after he was charged.

On 11 December 2020, Lai was charged with two counts of “conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign countries or external elements,” and one count of “collusion with foreign countries or external elements” under the National Security Law.

Hong Kong authorities said the charges related to the publication of articles in Apple Daily, a newspaper owned by Lai, that called on foreign countries to impose sanctions, along with his meetings with US politicians and interviews with overseas media. Authorities also cited Lai’s Twitter (now X) posts and his list of followers on the platform which included prominent foreign politicians and NGOs supportive of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

He has been detained since 31 December 2020, having been denied bail in February 2021 when Hong Kong’s highest court ruled that National Security Law cases were an exception to the presumption in favour of bail. The Hong Kong government also prohibited Lai’s British lawyer Timothy Owen from representing him after legislators passed an amendment giving the city’s Chief Executive the power to veto foreign lawyers from working on national security cases.

Jimmy Lai founded the outspoken Apple Daily in 1995. Shortly after the National Security Law was introduced on 30 June 2020, nearly 200 police raided the newspaper’s headquarters. It was the first time the law was invoked to search a media outlet’s premises, and Lai was arrested along with his two sons and several newspaper executives.

Apple Daily closed in June 2021 following the re-arrest of the same executives in another police raid and the freezing of its assets, in what Amnesty at the time called a “flagrant attack on press freedom”.

Lai faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. He has additionally been charged in the same case with “sedition”, which carries a maximum sentence of two years.

Hong Kong courts have already convicted Lai on four separate cases involving “unauthorized assemblies” and fraud and handed down prison sentences totalling over seven years.

Top image: Jimmy Lai © Getty Images