UK presses for consular access to Jimmy Lai as Hong Kong trial enters second day

UK presses for consular access to Jimmy Lai as Hong Kong trial enters second day


The British government has called on Hong Kong to provide consular access to jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai as his landmark national security trial entered its second day on Tuesday.

The 76-year-old British citizen and founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is facing charges of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to release seditious publications.

He was arrested in August 2020 during the Hong Kong administration’s crackdown on activists and China critics following the 2019 democracy movement.

The trial of Lai – the most high profile of the nearly 300 arrested under the Beijing-imposed draconian national security law – has become a diplomatic focal point between China and the West, including the UK, over freedom of press and judicial independence.

The UK and the US have called on China for the immediate release of Lai, saying that the trial is politically motivated. Lai was already serving five years and nine months for a fraud conviction over a lease dispute for his newspaper.

“We’ll continue to press for consular access to Mr Lai,” Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the British minister of state for the Indo-Pacific, said in parliament on Monday.

She added that the UK was unable to provide consular access “because we are not allowed to visit him in prison”.

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton, speaking during an urgent question, told the Commons: “This pantomime trial of Jimmy Lai is just the tip of a huge iceberg of the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) industrial abuse of human rights and indifference to international rule of law.”

Sir Julian Lewis, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee of parliament, said: “How many times must a totalitarian communist state behave like a totalitarian communist state before the government will recognise it as a totalitarian communist state?”

Foreign secretray David Cameron previously said Lai was targeted “in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association”.

The media tycoon on Tuesday walked into the West Kowloon Law Court smiling and waving to his supporters amid heavy police presence. He also blew a kiss to the public gallery as a supporter chanted: “Hang in there!”

Diplomats from at least 10 consulates, including those from the UK, the US, EU, Canada, and Australia, were in attendance during the trial along with Lai’s wife, son, and daughter.

The city-appointed judges – Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee – heard Lai’s lawyers’ plea to dismiss the sedition charges due to the “time bar”.

Robert Pang, the lead counsel for Lai, argued on Tuesday that the prosecutors had laid the charge too late for the alleged conspiracy that ran between April 2019 and June 2021.

Mr Pang on Monday said Apple Daily published its final edition on 24 June 2021 and the charge would have expired on 24 December. But the defendant was brought before the court for the first time on 28 December, at least four days after the “time bar” had expired.

But prosecutor Anthony Chau said the time limit should be set based on when the alleged conspiracy – involving at least 160 articles – actually ended.

Mr Chau said it would be absurd if prosecutors were required to charge a suspect every time an alleged offence came to their knowledge, making the case “fragmented” and “impracticable”.

The judges said they would make a decision on Friday. The trial is expected to last about 80 days without a jury.

The US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated calls for Lai’s release. “We have deep concerns about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and that includes the rule of law,” he said.

Beijing has dismissed the criticism from Western governments, saying that Washington and London made irresponsible remarks and that go against international law and the basic norms of international relations.




No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *