Mere days after bringing a veteran British litigator on his legal team, jailed Hong Kong entrepreneur Jimmy Lai is moving to halt the trial proceedings entirely.
In a pretrial interview, the 74-year-old Lai came before three National Security judges to review the charges brought against him. Lai’s trial, slated to begin in early December, is to be heard by a panel of judges instead of a jury, which is more typical, with the Hong Kong Free Press reporting that “under the national security law, a jury can be excluded under reasons such as the need to protect state secrets or the safety of members of the jury and their families.”
In light of this abnormality, Lai’s defense team will file applications to stay the trial, with senior counsel Robert Pang planning to file all submissions by Friday, November 18.
Under the country’s National Security Law, imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020 in the wake of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Lai faces three charges: one count of colluding with foreign forces and two of colluding with foreign countries/elements. Aside from that, Lai’s pro-democracy media work with his company Next Digital and newspaper Apple Daily landed the former clothing mogul with a sedition charge. If convicted, Lai could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a prison.
As Lai pushes to halt the trial, three other companies connected with Apple Daily are also standing trial for sedition. Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and Apple Daily Internet Limited each face a sedition charge for published content, as well as a charge of colluding with foreign forces. Several former staff members at Next Digital and Apple Daily who previously pled guilty to violations of the National Security Law and sedition laws are scheduled to begin their trials in late November.
Lai’s story has generated renewed attention from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an American nonprofit. CPJ members and various other advocates for press freedom recently penned a letter to the chief executive’s office in Hong Kong calling for Lai’s release. “Exercising your authority to drop the charges against Jimmy Lai and free him immediately is a crucial step toward regaining global confidence in Hong Kong,” the letter reads, calling on authorities to remember stated commitments to cement “Hong Kong’s role as a global financial hub, for which a free press and judicial independence are vital elements. Lai’s imprisonment … ha[s] seriously undermined the confidence in the city’s judiciary and the rule of law.”
The Hong Konger, the Acton Institute’s new documentary, tells the story of Jimmy Lai’s heroic struggle against authoritarian Beijing and its erosion of human rights in Hong Kong. It is currently being screened in cities around the world.