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UN weighs in on allegations of torture in Jimmy Lai trial

Updated: Jun 4

31 January 2024 – Today, the United Nations announced that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has contacted the Chinese authorities to address concerns regarding the potential use of evidence obtained through torture in the trial of British newspaper owner Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy Lai’s international legal team's urgent appeal, on 4th January 2024, raised serious concerns about the treatment of key prosecution witness Andy Li (Li Yu-Hin) in Lai's ongoing trial.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, released a statement in light of the allegations of torture for use in the Jimmy Lai trial in which she said: "I am deeply concerned that evidence expected to be presented against Jimmy Lai may have been obtained as a result of torture or other unlawful treatment." She also underscored the urgency of conducting an immediate investigation before admitting any such evidence in the ongoing proceedings.

This appeal closely followed publication of a report by the Washington Post's December 2023, which revealed mistreatment of Andy Li and others in Chinese custody. Allegations included consistent screaming heard from Li's cell in the detention centre. Since his return from a mainland Chinese prison, Andy Li has reportedly been held in a secure psychiatric facility in Hong Kong, separate from the general prison population. The urgent appeal emphasized emerging credible evidence suggesting that Andy Li was tortured in China before confessing to conspiring with Jimmy Lai.

Quoting Article 15 of the Convention against Torture, ratified by China, Dr. Edwards emphasized that statements made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence, except in proceedings against an alleged torturer. Allegations of torture during the detention of a key prosecution witness in the Shenzhen prison from 2020-2021 were highlighted, including the documented use of coercive techniques such as fixed restraint chairs (tiger chairs) to force confessions in mainland China.

On 22 January 2024, several UN independent Special Rapporteurs called on the Hong Kong authorities to drop all charges against Mr. Lai and release him immediately. The signatories to the UN letter 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, Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;


Speaking on behalf of Jimmy Lai’s international legal team, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC said: “Regrettably there is credible evidence that a key prosecution witness in Jimmy Lai's trial was subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that his testimony has been coerced. The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have so far failed to investigate these concerns. Today the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has publicly reminded China of their international legal obligations. We thank the UN Special Rapporteur for addressing this exceptionally urgent matter so speedily. We also thank the Washington Post reporter who brought this deeply concerning issue to public attention.”


Mark Sabah, Director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation said: "It is absolutely right that anyone being forced to give evidence against Jimmy Lai should immediately have their testimony excluded. It is shameful that the Chinese authorities are willing to go to such extreme lengths to prove that Jimmy Lai is guilty, no matter the cost and no matter the method. The Hong Kong authorities and courts, now completely under the control of the CCP, are not able to stop these disgraceful acts taking place, while still trying desperately to convince the world that Hong Kong is a normal place to do business in. It is not. The Jimmy Lai trial has exposed that."

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