‘Born rebel’: Hong Kong Pro-democracy Media Tycoon Stands Trial on Monday

Sat Dec 16 2023
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HONG KONG: Jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is set to stand trial in Hong Kong on Monday, facing charges related to national security crimes that could lead to a life sentence in a case that has sparked international condemnation.

The accusations include multiple counts of “colluding with foreign forces,” a violation of the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 following widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

Lai, aged 76, will be tried without a jury, and the proceedings are being closely monitored as a crucial test of the city’s remaining civil liberties. While more than 30 individuals have been convicted under the security law, Lai stands out as one of the most recognizable figures in the pro-democracy movement and the first to contest the charge of “foreign collusion,” which carries a potential life sentence.

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The gravest charges against Lai centre on Apple Daily, the Chinese-language tabloid he founded in 1995, which was known for its outspoken criticism of Beijing and support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In June 2021, the publication was forced to close after authorities, citing the security law, raided it twice and froze assets amounting to HK$18 million (US$2.3 million). Lai, along with six former Apple Daily executives, faces charges of “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.”

While the majority of the defendants, excluding Lai, have pleaded guilty, concerns about the fairness of the trial persist. International entities, including the United States, Britain, the European Union, and the United Nations, have expressed apprehensions about Lai’s case, contrasting sharply with Beijing’s dismissal of such concerns as smearing and interference.

Lai’s son, Sebastien, emphasized the trial’s significance, stating that it was an opportunity for Hong Kong to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law. The erosion of press freedom and political dissent in Hong Kong has been rapid, and the trial is expected to test the independence of the city’s courts from Beijing’s influence. The interpretation of the line between advocacy and collusion is anticipated to be a critical aspect of the trial, as observed by legal scholar Eric Lai from Georgetown University.

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