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Jimmy Lai’s Sham Trial Begins; UK and US condemn the prosecution

Updated: Jan 30

18 December 2023 - Yesterday, after numerous delays and nearly 1100 days in detention, the National Security Law (NSL) trial of British citizen Jimmy Lai began at the West Kowloon Law Courts in Hong Kong amid a heavy police presence.  


The 76-year-old entrepreneur and owner of the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, founded the popular newspaper to speak truth to power and dared to march with millions of his fellow Hong Kongers to defend freedom against Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s society. Mr Lai’s crime in the eyes of the CCP is his promotion of democratic values and Beijing has made clear that such sympathies must be put down.  

Expected to last up to 80 days, the sham trial will see Mr Lai facing three charges of “foreign collusion” along with a separate charge of “sedition”. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Mr Lai, has been denied access to consular assistance despite his British citizenship. 


The trial will be seen globally as a benchmark as to how far from grace the legal system and media freedom have sunk in the once thriving city. 

Expectations for a free and fair hearing with an independent judiciary are low, and Lai faces a possible life sentence especially as NSL cases have a 100% conviction rate. Since the introduction of the NSL, bail has been routinely denied and defendants effectively presumed guilty before trial and the right to trial by jury under Hong Kong’s Common Law system has been denied. The three handpicked judges chosen to oversee the trial are Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee, and there will be no jury. 


The British Foreign Secretary, Lord David Cameron said: “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.” 


British Minister for the Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP said: Jimmy Lai has been targeted in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression & association.  I urge the Chinese authorities to repeal the National Security Law …. & release Jimmy Lai. 


Matthew Miller, spokesperson for US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken said: “We strongly condemn the National Security Law prosecution of pro-democracy advocate and media owner Jimmy Lai. The trial is a stark example of Beijing and Hong Kong authorities’ attack on the freedoms of press and speech in Hong Kong.”


The Congressional Executive Commission on China in the US Congress, led by Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Jeff Merkley said: “We will continue to demand the unconditional release of Jimmy Lai and all of Hong Kong’s political prisoners and seek ways to raise the diplomatic and reputational costs globally for the Hong Kong and PRC government’s rough dismantling of democratic freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong.”


Mr Lai has been behind bars since 31 December 2020. In addition to an ongoing sentence for trumped-up fraud charges, he earlier served a 20-month prison sentence for participating in peaceful protests in 2019 and 2020 including lighting a candle to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, something which is now banned in Hong Kong. 


Prior to the trial, several prominent states and bodies, including the US Congressthe European Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Peaceful Assembly have called for Mr Lai’s release. Mr Lai’s detainment has also been criticised by multiple non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House.  


Mr Lai has received numerous accolades for his advocacy, including the 2021 Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers; the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists; and the 2023 Magnitsky Awards Outstanding Journalist Award. 

Mark Sabah, Director of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK Foundation) said:  

“This show trial will be another nail in the coffin of Hong Kong as a free and open society. Jimmy Lai should be immediately released, and all charges should be dropped. All political prisoners, who have been detained for defending their freedom and way of life should also be released. The CFHK Foundation stands firmly with Jimmy Lai and we will continue to speak out against injustice and in favour of free media, democracy and rule of law.” 

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