18 August 2023 – Today, a Hong Kong court suggested delaying the national security trial of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong. The proposed postponement is to ensure that Judge Alex Lee, one of the handpicked national security judges for Lai’s case, is finished presiding over the trial of the Hong Kong 47. During a pre-trial case review, three Hong Kong High Court judges said Lai’s trial is expected to start on the 18 December 2023 and last for 80 days.
Jimmy Lai’s trial was originally scheduled to start on 1 December 2022, but was delayed until 25 September 2023 to rewrite the rules to deny Lai his lawyer of choice. Lai’s trial may now begin almost three years after he was first jailed on National Security Law allegations.
The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation condemns this proposed delay as the Chinese Communist Party continues to silence Jimmy Lai. Does Hong Kong not have other national security judges they can assign to Lai’s case, or is his whole sham trial hanging on the participation of one judge? If anyone needed more evidence of the declining rule of law in Hong Kong, here we have it. Business is not as usual in Hong Kong. Western governments should make this known and Western businesses should heed their warning.
Lai is a well-known entrepreneur and campaigner who founded the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The 75-year-old British citizen initially faced two charges for conspiring to collude with foreign forces and one charge for colluding with foreign forces under the National Security Law as well as one charge related to allegedly seditious publications. In addition to these charges that await the expected trial in December, Lai was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison on questionable fraud charges on 10 December 2022. Lai also served a 20-month prison sentence for participating in peaceful protests in 2019 and 2020.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, head of Jimmy Lai and Sebastien Lai’s international legal team, said:
“Today’s developments are deeply concerning. Mr Lai has for decades been targeted by the Hong Kong authorities for his peaceful pro-democracy activities and journalism, and he has already spent years in prison. A further delay in his National Security Law trial to December 2023 would constitute a year’s delay on the original scheduled trial date, and would be unconscionable.
“The international community cannot stand by and await “justice to run its course” in Hong Kong when the rule of law lies in tatters and the authorities are doing everything in their power to delay and disrupt these proceedings. Now the UK government and international community must step in and take robust, speedy action to ensure Mr Lai is released. This charade should continue no longer.”
Mark Clifford, President of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said:
“Justice delayed is justice denied. What are the Hong Kong authorities afraid of? The judges on their side have a 100 percent conviction rate and yet they appear to be afraid of bringing Jimmy Lai to trial. Meanwhile, the other Apple Daily colleagues who have offered to plead guilty are being held hostage for this trial. It has been more than two years. It is an outrage, and it reflects on the degradation of the city’s once-proud legal system.”