Religion & Liberty Online

Jimmy Lai Denied Counsel Yet Again as Power Shifts to Pro-CCP Exec

(Image credit: Associated Press)

One more obstacle has been put in the way of securing justice for Hong Kong’s most famous and outspoken voice for freedom.

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Jimmy Lai is Hong Kong’s most persecuted freedom fighter. Jailed in December 2020 for the crime of protesting the Chinese Communist Party’s clampdown on civil rights in Hong Kong, the 75-year-old fashion mogul and entrepreneur faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of violating the CCP’s National Security Law, which took effect in June 2020. Lai’s path to freedom involves securing access to King’s Counsel Tim Owen, a veteran U.K. lawyer specializing in the rights of political prisoners—and the CCP has done everything in its power to keep that from happening.

The Lai case hit yet another snag on Wednesday as Hong Kong legislators passed a bill handing near-complete control over decisions as to who can practice law in the city to the CCP-friendly chief executive, John Lee. The bill, dubbed the Legal Practitioners Amendment, gives Chief Executive Lee the decisive role in whether to admit foreign legal counsel in national security trials like Lai’s. Lee is a decisively pro-Beijing figure, having received plaudits from Xi Jinping’s regime and taken a lead in the crackdown against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Lai, a prominent member of that movement, now faces an even rockier road to a fair trial for his alleged crimes of conspiracy and collusion. As of now, the only crime he’s truly committed is that of protesting on behalf of a free Hong Kong—but that’s been more than enough to stoke the ire of the Chinese Communist Party.

To secure Owen as counsel, Lai’s team would have to convince Lee that Owen’s involvement would not jeopardize Hong Kong’s commitments to national security. With Lai’s trial approaching in September 2023, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see a path to victory for Hong Kong’s most effective voice for freedom. Although Lai’s team has battled doggedly to get to this moment, and Western voices continue to spread his story, there’s no question that securing Lai’s freedom—and a freer Hong Kong—remains an uphill battle.

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. The film premiered worldwide at freejimmylai.comon April 18, 2023. Stream it now.

Isaac Willour

Isaac Willour is a journalist currently reporting on American politics and higher education. His work has been published in a plethora of outlets, including the Christian Post, The Dispatch, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review, as well as interviews for New York Times Opinion and the American Enterprise Institute. He studies political science at Grove City College. He can be found on Twitter @IsaacWillour.