Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance has rejected Jimmy Lai’s appeal challenging the denial of access to U.K. counsel. In November of last year, a national security committee denied Lai, a U.K. citizen, the right to add King’s Counsel Tim Owen, a veteran U.K. lawyer specializing in the rights of political prisoners, to his defense team. On May 10, 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 determining whether to admit foreign legal counsel in national security trials like Lai’s.
On Friday, Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon rejected Lai’s request to overturn the committee’s decision. Poon ruled that the courts have no jurisdiction over committee decisions under the terms of the Beijing-backed National Security Law, passed in 2020.
Lai’s Hong Kong lawyers had filed an application back in April for judicial review, requesting that the original national security committee decision to bar Owen be overturned, as the committee had overstepped its powers. “There is no power or jurisdiction to determine specific questions arising from cases, let alone overturn judicial decisions,” they insisted.
Nevertheless, Poon ruled that “The courts have neither the training nor expertise to deal with them in the exercise of their judicial function.”
All this is on the heels of Lai’s nomination, along with five other Hong Kong freedom fighters, for the Nobel Peace Prize. And on Tuesday, more than 100 journalists added their names to an Open Letter, which stated:
Together with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), we stand with Jimmy Lai. We believe he has been targeted for publishing independent reporting, and we condemn all charges against him. We call for his immediate release, for the national security charges against him to be dropped, and for his convictions on other charges to be overturned. We note that the case against Jimmy Lai takes place as part of a broader press freedom crackdown in Hong Kong, and are deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration of Hong Kong’s press freedom climate, as reflected in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. 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.
In addition, on May 18 Lai was awarded the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Price for Advancing Liberty.
Lai is currently being held in solitary confinement serving a five-year sentence for fraud, prosecuted last December. He faces a lifetime in prison on charges of conspiracy and foreign collusion as stipulated by the Beijing-backed National Security Law. His original arrest and imprisonment were spurred by his protests of CCP-inspired crackdowns on civil rights and press freedom in Hong Kong and his production of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, shuttered in 2021.
The Hong Konger, the Acton Institute’s new award-winning 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.