HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — Catholic cardinals and bishops from across the world have issued a public letter calling on Chinese authorities to release the jailed Catholic journalist and freedom-advocate Jimmy Lai.
The joint letter, issued on November 7 by U.K.-based barrister firm Doughty Street Chambers (DSC), makes a direct call upon “the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai.”
“Mr. Lai’s persecution for supporting pro-democracy causes through his newspaper and in other forums has gone on long enough,” the 10 signatories added. “There is no place for such cruelty and oppression in a territory that claims to uphold the rule of law and respect the right to freedom of expression.”
Continuing their open letter, the 10 Catholic prelates wrote:
In standing up for his beliefs and committing himself through his faith to challenge autocracy and repression, Jimmy Lai has lost his business, been cut off from his family, and has just surpassed 1,000 days in prison, while facing the prospect of many more years of incarceration to come. He is 75 years old. He must be freed now.
The Catholic prelates who have put pen to paper in support of Jimmy Lai come from the U.S.A., the U.K., Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe, and India:
- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York (United States)
- Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major-Archbishop of Trivandrum (India)
- The Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services-USA (United States)
- The Most Rev. Anthony Fisher, O.P., Archbishop of Sydney (Australia)
- The Most Rev. Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius (Lithuania)
- The Most Rev. J. Michael Miller, C.S.B, Archbishop of Vancouver (Canada)
- The Most Rev. John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark (United Kingdom)
- The Most Rev. Robert E. Barron, Bishop of Winona-Rochester (United States)
- The Most Rev. Alan A. McGuckian, S.J., Bishop of Raphoe (Ireland)
- The Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia (Nigeria)
Jimmy Lai was sentenced to a six-year jail term last December, on the charge of “fraud.” According to news outlet Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), at Lai’s December 2022 sentencing, the judge also imposed “an eight-year disqualification order to Lai and ordered the media tycoon to pay HK$2 million in fines.”
In a separate case, Lai also faces charges of “collusion with foreign forces” in violation of the draconian National Security Law (NSL) that Beijing imposed on the island to suppress dissent against the CCP, and could face a life sentence under this law. This case trial date has been repeatedly delayed by the CCP authorities, with a current trial date set for December 18.
His son warned in September that Lai’s still-pending trial for the alleged violation of the NSL was being delayed deliberately, as the event would not reflect well on the CCP. The trial was described by his lawyers as a “show trial.”
Lai, who was brought into the Catholic faith by fellow Hong Kong resident Cardinal Joseph Zen, is a strong and vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its measures against freedom.
He founded the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily in 1995, which published criticism of the CCP that earned it the ire of the Communist authorities. The paper became one of the leading newspapers in Hong Kong.
DSC lawyers described the “fraud” charges against Lai as “spurious,” and added that his arrest under the NSL was simply for “peaceful pro-democracy campaigning and his work at Apple Daily.”
Welcoming the prelates’ letter, Lai’s son Sebastien Lai expressed his gratitude for the move, which was “calling out for his [Jimmy Lai’s] release from unjust imprisonment.”
My father’s faith and belief in right and wrong are key to understanding why my father stood up for democracy for the people of Hong Kong, despite the obvious dangers to his life. Even now, imprisoned at 75 years old, his faith is what keeps him strong; it is something the Hong Kong authorities can’t take away from him, having taken away so much else.
Lai escaped to Hong Kong from China when a child, and became a self-made businessman, using his influence and resources to promote the cause of freedom and democracy. His arrest and subsequent jail-sentence caused outrage in the international sphere, with the U.S. State Department issuing an October 2022 statement in which it deplored the Chinese National Security Law’s “systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy” and called for a restoration of “respect for press freedom in Hong Kong, where a once-vibrant independent media environment has all but disappeared.”
Earlier this year, Lai was nominated for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Cardinal Zen and other Hong Kong freedom activists. A feature length film by the Acton Institute was released earlier this year, documenting the life of Jimmy Lai and his stance for freedom in the face of CCP action against him.
The Catholic prelates’ text has been met with swift criticism from Chinese authorities. According to the South China Morning Post, a spokesman for Hong Kong authorities accused the letter as being “misleading and slanderous.”
“The government firmly rejects and strongly disapproves of the fact-twisting remarks made by the foreign Catholic leaders to inappropriately interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and the courts’ independent exercise of judicial power,” the statement read.
The Catholic prelates were indirectly accused of undermining the rule of law in Hong Kong, with the spokesman adding how “[a]ny person, regardless of his or her identity, who attempts to interfere with the judicial proceedings in Hong Kong in order to procure a defendant’s evasion of the criminal justice process, is blatantly undermining the rule of law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”