Trial for Hong Kong media mogul begins

Who is Jimmy Lai? The media mogul and pro-democracy activist faces life in prison following a trial that started this week.
Who is Jimmy Lai?

The trial of pro-democracy activist and newspaper founder Jimmy Lai has commenced in Hong Kong, three years after his arrest.

Lai, who was born in China and holds UK citizenship, has been accused of ‘colluding with foreign forces’ — a broad charge that can relate to political activism or peaceful protesting, for example. He is now facing life in prison.

Before his arrest, Lai was an outspoken critic of China’s involvement in Hong Kong. He has previously been charged with other legal breaches and is currently serving a sentence related to fraud.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong, on China’s south coast, was a British colony for more than 150 years. It was handed back to mainland China in 1997 under a 50-year agreement between Britain and China. This agreement granted Hong Kong its own government, somewhat separate from the mainland’s Chinese Communist Party.

In 2019, a bill was proposed in Hong Kong that sought to give China powers to move Hong Kong residents to the mainland for some criminal trials (extradition). It led to mass protests and violence and did not pass.

In response to these demonstrations, China passed a national security law for Hong Kong in 2020. Charges under the law broadly relate to activities that undermine the Chinese Government.

Advocacy group Amnesty International described the law as “dangerously vague” and said Chinese authorities “immediately” began arrests for “legitimate and peaceful expression” after it passed.

Who is Jimmy Lai?

Lai moved to Hong Kong from mainland China when he was 12 years old. He became a high-profile critic of the Chinese Government and its alleged human rights abuses.

Lai founded the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily — a publication that openly and frequently criticised China.

In 2019, he met with then-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to raise his concerns over Chinese interference in Hong Kong. Under China’s 2020 national security law, Lai’s activism was considered an offence.

Jimmy Lai’s trial

Lai became the first prominent figure to be charged under the national security law when he was arrested in Hong Kong in 2020. His trial commenced this week.

Lai’s dual nationality will not be recognised in court because the Government considers any person of Chinese heritage born in China to have only one citizenship.

The charges he faces carry a 100% conviction rate with a maximum penalty of life in prison. The trial is set to last several weeks, with a verdict not expected until later next year.

David Cameron talks

The UK, which formerly controlled Hong Kong, has opposed the laws and called for Lai’s release.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron met with Lai’s son earlier this month and called his prosecution “politically motivated”. Cameron said Lai’s arrest was intended to “stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association”.

Lai requested lawyers from the UK to represent him in the case, but Hong Kong laws prevented this.

Chinese response

The Chinese Government has criticised Cameron’s comments, accusing the UK Government of “meddling in Hong Kong-related affairs”.

When asked earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the UK said Cameron’s support “exposed” Lai’s foreign collusion, which “further proved” the legitimacy of charges levelled at Lai.

Global concerns

The U.S. Government has condemned the prosecution, calling for Lai and all others imprisoned for defending their human rights to be released.

In June, the Parliament of the European Union emphasised Lai’s right to a fair trial and called for his immediate and unconditional release. A similar call has also been issued in Canada’s Parliament.

Human Rights Watch has called charges against Lai “bogus” and asked for them to be dropped.

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.