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U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should call for Jimmy Lai's release as he hits 1,000 days in prison

26 September 2023 – Today marks British citizen Jimmy Lai’s 1,000th consecutive day in prison for daring to speak and print the truth in Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai is a 75-year-old husband, father, and businessman who founded Apple Daily and its parent company Next Digital, a Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper and media outlet forcibly shut by the government. Lai is one of Hong Kong’s most high-profile, outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party.

Jimmy Lai has been behind bars since 31 December 2020. In addition to an ongoing sentence for trumped-up fraud charges, Lai earlier served a 20-month prison sentence for participating in peaceful protests in 2019 and 2020. Lai faces a possible life sentence under the National Security Law in a trial expected to begin in December.

In December 2022, 29 British Parliamentarians signed a joint letter to U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressing their deep concern at the sentencing of Jimmy Lai for “fraud” charges and calling on the U.K. government to publicly condemn the sentencing and call for his release.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK Foundation) urges British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to publicly call for the release of one of their citizens, a non-violent dissident who has been imprisoned for almost three years because he fought for human rights and democracy under the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Speaking in London on Thursday evening, Sebastien Lai, son of Jimmy Lai, said:

“Dad is a man who was willing and still is willing to give everything he has to stand up for freedom… The British government could do more. For example, they could ask for my father’s release. They have yet to do that. If they believe in the values that my father has by staying in Hong Kong, all they have to do is say it and advocate for his release.”

Lord Chris Patten of Barnes, former Governor of Hong Kong, said:

“I would just like to say that so long as Jimmy is in prison, it is important to go on speaking up for him. If the leaders of democracies, particularly Britain, don’t do that it is shameful. It is a very simple point at the moment. He is a British citizen who is being denied consular access. What does our Prime Minister, what does our Foreign Secretary, say to their Chinese opposite numbers when they meet them about that? They tell us they raise the case of Jimmy Lai. What is said and what do they get out of it? There is sort of a mush school of diplomacy which does the bare minimum to raise the appalling abuses in China. The Chinese think that we are simply going through the motions. We have to make it clear that we are not, that these are things that really matter to us. Jimmy Lai’s case is one of them.”

Mark Clifford, President of the CFHK Foundation, said:

“One day is too long for an innocent husband, father, businessman, and non-violent freedom fighter to be behind bars, let alone 1,000 days. The fact that Jimmy Lai, a British citizen, continues to be held on made-up charges, shows the deep-rooted fear that the Chinese Communist Party has of free media and democratic movements. Equally disturbing is the fate of Jimmy Lai’s six Apple Daily colleagues who are being held hostage, apparently until Lai’s repeatedly delayed National Security Law trial.

"British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should defend his own citizen by publicly calling for the Hong Kong government to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai and abide by the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty signed by China that promised continued freedom for Hong Kong people. The U.S., Australian and other governments of the free world should also urge the Hong Kong authorities to free Jimmy Lai, who is a symbol of democracy. Another day for Jimmy Lai behind bars is another day of destruction for the very values we hold dear.”

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