The Unjust Trial of British Citizen Jimmy Lai begins in Hong Kong
In a bid to defend the remnants of democracy and free speech in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai found himself incarcerated inside Stanley Prison and has been locked up now for over three and a half years, facing charges of sedition and ‘collusion with foreign forces’.
His trial, after being delayed for over a year, finally began on Monday 18 December and is expected to last 80 days. It is a severe test of Hong Kong’s judicial independence and has been strongly condemned by human rights investigators and governments around the world.
Not only has Jimmy Lai had bail repeatedly denied, but his lawyer, UK silk Timothy Owen KC, was also blocked by authorities.
Despite foreign lawyers having operated for decades in the city’s courts, Hong Kong’s government last year decided they posed a national security risk and would need permission to work on any National Security Law cases.
Lai will also not face a jury, even though that has been the norm in previous criminal legal cases carrying life sentences in Hong Kong.
Under Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, which was passed in 2020, the government has the power to deny a jury and handpick a panel of three judges.
Hong Kong’s legal scholar Eric Lai says the NSL upended long-standing legal principles overnight: “We’re dealing with pretty vague and wide-ranging legislation – and so many of the procedural safeguards have been swept away.”
Hong Kong’s government also boasts of the 100% conviction rate in NSL cases so far, which legal experts say is a damming statistic.
Speaking on the matter, Johnathan Price, a barrister on Lai’s international legal team which cannot represent him in Hong Kong said, “no properly functioning justice system should operate in an environment where there’s a 100% conviction rate, it can’t be right. It’s redolent of a sham democracy where a dictator claims to have 98% of the popular vote.”
The NSL, which Hong Kong says targets subversion and secession, has been used to jail lawyers and politicians who have led pro-democracy movements, but ordinary people have also been caught in the net, as authorities have resurrected use of a colonial-era sedition law, the same law under which Lai is being tried.
Lai’s best hope now is ramped up pressure from the UK Government.
The Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has called for Jimmy Lai’s release, describing the trial as ‘politically motivated’ and warning that the NSL is ‘a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration’.
He added: ‘It has damaged Hong Kong, with rights and freedoms sufficiently eroded. Arrests under the law have silenced opposition voices.’
Now Lai is facing a life sentence, his son Sebastian is calling on Rishi Sunak’s Government to do everything in its power to intercede — ‘not just because he is my father’, he said, ‘but because he is British, but because he is a true figurehead for freedom’.