Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong’s most famous freedom fighter, is still in prison. In September, he will face a trial that could leave him spending the rest of his life behind bars for the crime of standing against the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the civil rights it had enjoyed. The CCP knows that obscuring Lai’s story is the best way to ensure the former clothing mogul and entrepreneur never sees freedom again. Yet, outside the walls of Lai’s prison, the outcry is growing.
More than a hundred media leaders have announced their commitment to telling the truth about Lai and Hong Kong in an open letter published Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders. “The Chinese regime has taken its attempts to control information beyond its borders, and made it a concern for the entire world,” the letter reads. “The universal right to press freedom must be protected for the people of Hong Kong and around the world.”
Among the 116 signatories of the open letter are executives in such major American news outlets as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Politico, as well as several Nobel Prize laureates and media figures from within both Hong Kong and China.
Also among those demanding Lai’s release from prison are a number of prominent U.K. journalists. This public stand comes less than a week after Lai’s son lambasted the British government as “incredibly weak” over its failure to intervene in his father’s case. Lai, a British citizen, is still being deprived of his right to counsel, including legal specialists from the U.K., as the CCP has allowed Hong Kong to block international lawyers from Lai’s national security trial. Facing charges of foreign collusion and conspiracy, Lai could face life in prison if convicted, and his sentencing would be a clear precedent for CCP-backed courts to retaliate against the few Hong Kong freedom fighters who still dare to speak out.
Nothing less than the future of free media is at stake as Lai’s trial approaches—failure here could be the turning point for Hong Kong and the free voices that remain in the region. As the Reporters Without Borders letter declares:
We call for the immediate release of all 13 of the currently detained journalists, and for any remaining charges against all 28 journalists targeted under national security and other laws over the past three years to be dropped. We also call for immediate steps to allow for the reinstatement of media that have been forced to close, including Apple Daily and Stand News, which have served as devastating blows to media freedom in Hong Kong.
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. Banned by TikTok, the film premiered worldwide at freejimmylai.com on April 18, 2023, and is available in full on YouTube here.