22 January 2024 - On the eve of a major human rights review at the United Nations (UN), known as a ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR), into China, UN experts have urgently appealed to the Hong Kong authorities to dismiss all charges against pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai and to secure his immediate release.
In a statement released this evening (Monday, 22nd January 2024) the UN experts expressed deep concern over what appears to be a direct correlation between Jimmy Lai's arrest, detention, and the series of criminal proceedings against him and his outspoken criticism of the Chinese Government, coupled with his unwavering support for democracy in Hong Kong. The experts behind the statement were: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Ms. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
These Special Rapporteurs form part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. Special Procedures experts operate on a voluntary basis, independent of any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. The four experts voiced alarm at the numerous and severe violations of Jimmy Lai's freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, as well as his right to a fair trial. These concerns include the denial of access to a lawyer of his choosing and the apparent interference in the selection of judges by the authorities. After numerous delays and nearly 1100 days in detention, the National Security Law (NSL) trial of Lai, a British citizen, began in Hong Kong amid a heavy police presence in December 2023. Lai faces charges of sedition and foreign collusion under the newly imposed legislation. If convicted, Lai could potentially face a life sentence.
CFHK Foundation, alongside other Hong Kong advocacy groups including Scottish Hong Kongers and Hong Kongers in Britain, made several recommendations about the situation in Hong Kong, including that "the NSL be repealed; restore the right of defendants using legal aid to choose their lawyer; ensure the practice of trial by jury in all national security cases." The submission also recommended that the Hong Kong authorities release all imprisoned journalists; ensure a free media environment from harassment, and prosecute in an open, fair trial; and cease government censorship of content from independent media".
Mark Sabah, Director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation said: "It is absolutely right that these special rapporteurs with four different portfolios have come together right before the UN UPR of China. They are in the right position to raise the case of Jimmy Lai as emblematic of the collapse of the rule of law and freedom in Hong Kong. They are right to call for his immediate release and to highlight the injustice of the National Security Law. We urge all UN member states participating at the UPR in Geneva to call for Jimmy's unconditional release and a full retraction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.”