The trial of Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democracy newspaper AppleDaily, began this Monday in Hong Kong. Lai, 76, who became one of the symbols of protests that erupted in 2019 in China’s special administrative region, faces a life sentence under the controversial national security law that Beijing approved in 2020 to restore order on the island and suppress protests. The process, expected to last 80 days, has been described as a “farce” by human rights organizations and has provoked a reaction against part of the international community, which sees this affair as a test decisive on the independence of justice and the limits to the exercise of fundamental freedoms in the enclave. Beijing, on the other hand, considers the accused an “anti-Chinese element” and a “mastermind of the unrest”, as well as responsible for what they describe as “numerous atrocious acts”.
The hearing began on Monday with the West Kowloon court complex surrounded by heavy security. Dozens of supporters spent the night outside to be able to have a place in the hall. Representatives from at least 10 consulates were also present at the hearing, including those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Switzerland, according to the Hong Kong newspaper. South China Morning Post.
Lai, who arrived wearing a light gray suit, has been incarcerated for more than three years and spends his days in a maximum security prison in solitary confinement, according to Human Rights Watch. The famous editor-in-chief, a British national, had already been sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for fraud and several months in prison in three cases of unauthorized assembly for his participation in the demonstrations.
On this occasion, he faces a charge of conspiracy for having published publications considered seditious, with six other members of the editorial staff of AppleDailyunder the Crimes Ordinance, and is also accused of violating the aforementioned national security law, with two counts of conspiracy related to collusion with foreign forces for allegedly attracting international sanctions against authorities and incited public hatred following anti-government protests in 2019. The charges relate to the publication of articles in AppleDailyowned by Lai, in which he called on foreign countries to impose sanctions, as well as his meetings with American politicians and his interviews with foreign media and his posts on Twitter (now X).
The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have spoken out against the case. Washington demanded in a statement his “immediate release” from the Hong Kong authorities and recalled that he had been denied the free choice of his legal representation. Brussels denounced this Monday that the process “undermines confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong and is detrimental to the attractiveness of the city and its position as an international business center”. And he criticized the fact that the closure of AppleDaily “demonstrates the extent to which freedom of the press and the free expression of opinions have been stifled in Hong Kong since the imposition of the national security law. »
British Foreign Minister David Cameron assured in a statement on Sunday that the security legislation imposed by Beijing to suppress the 2020 uprisings violated the Sino-British agreement which provided for the restitution of Hong Kong to China. “I have serious concerns that anyone could be prosecuted under (this law), and I am particularly concerned about the politically motivated prosecution of British national Jimmy Lai.” The Chinese government, which does not recognize dual nationality, considers Lai – of Chinese origin and born in China – to be an exclusively Chinese citizen. “I call on the Hong Kong authorities to end their persecution and release Jimmy Lai,” said Cameron, who met Sebastien Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son, in London last week.
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“Given the national security law’s 100% conviction rate and Beijing’s determination to crush the city’s pro-democracy movement, Lai’s future may depend on the international response to this farce.” , he said in a statement last week. to Human Rights Watch.
The People’s Republic, on the other hand, considers Lai “one of the most notorious anti-Chinese elements, determined to destabilize Hong Kong” as well as “one of the masterminds of the riots” four years ago, according to the latest statement by Foreign Affairs spokesman Mao. Friday, Ning during an appearance. “He openly colluded with external forces to undermine China’s national security and is responsible for many egregious acts,” he added. Beijing estimates that three years after the adoption of the national security law, “more than 80%” of Hong Kongers consider it to be a “safer” place. Mao accused London of “hypocrisy” and having “hidden intentions”. “Apparently the UK considers itself a country based on the rule of law, but is now openly interfering in an ongoing legal process,” he concluded.