Sitting in a prison cell, stripped of both legal counsel and liberty, 75-year-old entrepreneur and publisher Jimmy Lai has likely been tempted to give up the fight against the Beijing and its years-long effort to curtail civil and human rights in Hong Kong. Yet the democracy advocate, imprisoned since December 2020, continues to take on Xi Jinping’s regime for his right to a fair trial.
The first step for Lai in seeking justice is to get his counsel back: veteran U.K. lawyer Timothy Owen, a specialist in human rights and international law. Hong Kong has repeatedly petitioned Beijing to block Owen’s admission in the Lai case, saying that non–Hong Kong lawyers threaten the country’s ability to try individuals under the sweeping National Security Law (NSL), which Beijing itself implemented in Hong Kong in 2020.
Last December, Beijing ruled that the authority to permit lawyers like Owen to participate in trials involving violations of the NSL lies with Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee. Lai, who has been charged with two counts of conspiracy and one count of collusion, recently sent a petition of his own to Hong Kong with a simple message: don’t let Beijing’s hostility on this issue determine the fairness of my trial.
The Hong Kong High Court had previously allowed Owen to participate in Lai’s trial, and thus Lai’s team likely sees this as a precedent by which to fight for Owen’s return. Although Lai’s trial began last December, it was adjourned after one day, until September 2023. Lai will remain in prison until then for all three of the NSL charges against him, as well as an unrelated fraud conviction in relation to the publication of his pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, shuttered in 2021.
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.