June 24, 2024

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FILE PHOTO: Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, looks on as he leaves the Court of Final Appeal by prison van, in Hong Kong, China February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

Jimmy Lai Pleads Not Guilty in the Landmark National Security Trial

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy stalwart, Jimmy Lai, has formally denied all charges in a significant national security trial, potentially leading to a life sentence, according to Reuters. Lai, the 76-year-old founder of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, faces accusations of conspiring to publish seditious content under a colonial-era sedition law.

Apple Daily, known for its robust support of the pro-democracy movements that swept Hong Kong in 2020 following the imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) by Beijing, was branded as “anti-national.”

Lai, a British citizen, faces two counts of conspiring with foreign forces, allegedly advocating for sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials, in line with China’s national security law. Authorities have depicted Lai as an “errand boy” for anti-Chinese forces.

The trial involves other defendants, including three companies linked to Apple Daily that are now under Hong Kong government control, six former newspaper executives, and two activists affiliated with the Stand With Hong Kong Fight For Freedom (SWHK) advocacy group.

Lead prosecutor Anthony Chau characterised the case as centred around a “radical political figure” conspiring against the Hong Kong government. Chau asserted that Lai, labelled the “mastermind,” utilised his media platform to advance a political agenda and orchestrated a conspiracy with the SWHK group.

Lai’s trial, initiated in late 2023 after more than 1,100 days of incarceration, holds significant implications for assessing the state of political freedoms and judicial autonomy in Hong Kong. Both the United States and Britain have called for Lai’s immediate release, condemning the trial as politically motivated.

While maintaining the principle of equal treatment before the law, Hong Kong authorities reject claims that Lai will not receive a fair trial. They argue that the national security law has brought stability to Hong Kong following the mass protests of 2019. The trial proceedings are being closely monitored internationally, given their potential impact on Hong Kong’s political landscape and the question of judicial independence.