In Hong Kong and Beyond, All Eyes on Jimmy Lai's Trial

Landmark national security trial opened Monday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 18, 2023 7:21 AM CST
In Hong Kong and Beyond, All Eyes on Jimmy Lai's Trial
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai pauses during an interview in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

A landmark national security trial opened Monday in Hong Kong for prominent activist and publisher Jimmy Lai, who faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a law imposed by Beijing to crush dissidents. Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 during a crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement under the sweeping national security law enacted following huge protests four years ago. He was charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to put out seditious publications, reports the AP. His trial is Hong Kong's first on those collusion charges.

The closely watched case—tied to the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily that Lai founded—is widely seen as a trial of press freedom and a test for judicial independence in the Asian financial hub. China promised that the former British colony could retain its Western-style civil liberties for 50 years after returning to Chinese rule in 1997. But in recent years, the Hong Kong government has severely limited free speech and assembly and virtually eliminated political opposition under the rubric of maintaining national security. Many leading activists were arrested, silenced, or forced into self-exile.

Lai smiled and waved at his supporters after he walked into the courtroom. One 29-year-old who was trying to get into court to observe the proceedings told the AP, "As a Hong Konger, I want to witness this, even though I know he will lose." Another resident, in his 40s, said he came to witness history. "Choosing to come here is a small practice of some sort of resistance," he said. Ahead of opening statements, Lai's lawyer Robert Pang, facing the prosecution in court, said the sedition charge his client was facing didn't follow the due course of law.

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Pang argued the law required the prosecution of sedition charges to begin within six months after an alleged offense was committed, saying the prosecutors failed to do it within that time frame in Lai's case. Three judges, approved by the government, are overseeing the proceedings. The trial is expected to last about 80 days. Last year, six former Apple Daily executives entered guilty pleas to collusion charges, admitting to the court they conspired with Lai to call for sanctions or other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. They were convicted and await sentencing behind bars. Some are expected to testify as witnesses for the prosecution of Lai. The US and Britain have condemned the prosecution and the security law.

(More Hong Kong stories.)

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