Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai Denies Sedition, National Security Charges


Beijing imposed the broadly-worded national security law in June 2020, saying it was necessary to restore stability following the mass protests the previous year…reports Asian Lite News

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, known for his support of the pro-democracy movement and criticism of China, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in his trial under the territory’s national security law that could see him jailed for life, Al Jazeera reported.

Lai, 76, has been in prison since December 2020 and faces two counts of “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” under the China-imposed security law as well as “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” under a colonial-era sedition law.

His trial was delayed by a year – after the Hong Kong government questioned his choice of lawyer – seeking Beijing’s intervention – and finally got underway in December.

The founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper is one of Beijing’s most vocal critics and has already been convicted on lesser charges related to the management of the media firm and his involvement in a vigil to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, according to Al Jazeera.

“Not guilty,” Lai responded in English as each of the three charges was read out.

Other defendants in the case include three Apple Daily companies that have been taken over by the Hong Kong government, six former executives of the newspaper and two young activists related to an advocacy group called Stand With Hong Kong Fight For Freedom (SWHK).

Beijing imposed the broadly-worded national security law in June 2020, saying it was necessary to restore stability following the mass protests the previous year, which began amid popular opposition to a plan for an extradition bill with the mainland, Al Jazeera reported.

Amnesty International has said the law has “decimated” Hong Kong’s freedoms and many pro-democracy politicians and activists have left the territory.

Meanwhile, the US and the UK have called for Lai’s immediate release and raised concerns about whether he will receive a fair trial. Lai is also a UK citizen.

“This case is about a radical political figure…who conspired with others to bring into hatred and stir up opposition to the government of ([Hong Kong] and the central authorities and to collude with foreign countries or external elements to endanger national security,” lead prosecutor Anthony Chau told the court on Tuesday.

Chau labelled Lai “the mastermind” who used his media business “as a platform to pursue his political agenda…and orchestrated a conspiracy with the so-called democracy and freedom advocacy group Stand with Hong Kong Fight for Freedom”, according to Al Jazeera.

The prosecution cited 161 publications of Apple Daily between April 2019 and the newspaper’s last day in June 2021 as “examples of seditious publications… with a view to polluting the minds of the impressionable ones”.

Lai was also accused of providing instructions and financial support for SWHK to lobby foreign countries for sanctions, including the US, UK, Australia, Japan and Portugal.

The trial is being heard by three specially selected security law judges and there is no jury. It is scheduled to continue for 80 days until March next year, Al Jazeera reported. (ANI)

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