After the implementation of the National Security Law of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the life of Hong Kong citizens changed utterly. Far from enjoying freedom, they are now suspected of being dissidents and suffer all kinds of censorship, repression, and arrests.
The CCP’s persecution of journalists after the 2019 demonstrations exposed that many were victims of police violence, and others were detained and prosecuted.
In this context, Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Media Limited, Hong Kong’s most prominent media outlet and owner of Apple Daily, has been detained for almost two years. Charged with “collusion with foreign forces under the security law.”
Lai is also accused of being part of pro-democracy demonstrations and a vigil for the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The complaint by CCP Court procurators says that 74-year-old Lai and six other accused Apple Daily employees sought international sanctions against Hong Kong and China through their Apple Daily newspaper. As a result, the paper was shut down, and their bank accounts were frozen.
If Lai and his six employees are convicted, they will face life imprisonment.
The Hong Kong court denied bail for the media entrepreneur; now, his lawyers are working to rally international support to lobby the CCP for his client’s release.
Lai’s lawyers said they wanted the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States to intervene in the case.
The businessman’s legal team is seeking to have Lai’s case heard at the 77th UN General Assembly, the largest gathering of world leaders, held in New York from September 19-25.
“This is a key time for the U.S. to ensure that this case is raised as a very high priority bilaterally in engagement with Hong Kong and China,” said Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a member of Lai’s legal team.
Lai’s legal group said several UN members suggested there would be a robust political response to China if the businessman were convicted.
On the other hand, Gallagher also warned that the closure of publicly traded Apple Daily is evidence that the same could happen to other Hong Kong companies.
According to the lawyer, by punishing the businessman, the Chinese regime sends a clear message: “toe the Beijing line, or you’ll be next.”
In addition, Lai’s lawyer argued that the court proceedings over the owner of Apple Daily “do not comply with international human rights standards and, indeed, won’t comply with standards protected under the Basic Law,” which enshrines freedom of speech and expression.
“We would expect a robust policy response from the U.S. and other states should this abusive treatment of Mr Lai continue,” said Jonathan Price, another media entrepreneur’s legal team member.
Lai’s arrest was considered an example of Chinese Communist Party repression against critics and defenders of democracy, as Lai and his media company were a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party, shedding light on the truth of the violence at the Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations.
Jimmy Lai’s legal team receives threats
In April this year, Lai’s legal team asked the UN to condemn the Chinese regime’s arrest and “legal harassment” of Jimmy Lai.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), demonstrating its support for freedom of expression, presented its appeal of Lai’s case to the UN on May 28 “to obtain the immediate release” of the media founder.
Cédric Alviani, head of RSF’s East Asia bureau, said the international community needs to stop the judicial harassment of Lai and urge the Hong Kong government to “restoring full press freedom, a principle enshrined in the territory’s Basic Law.”
Last July, Lai’s legal team filed an appeal with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, declaring his detention illegal.
Following the appeal request, the lawyers representing the tycoon announced they received anonymous e-mails warning them not to travel to defend him.
Counsel Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Jonathan Price, and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers said the messages came from a generic Gmail address.
The legal team commented that threats to journalists, activists, and lawyers inside Hong Kong are a recurring occurrence and that these intimidations are now “spreading outside the borders of China and Hong Kong.”
In this regard, Baroness Helena Kennedy, director of the Fundamental Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, described it as an act of “intimidation that is only carried out by authoritarian regimes.”
The struggle for Lai’s freedom will have profound social and political effects in Hong Kong. At stake is not only Jimmy Lai’s life in freedom but that of the people themselves.