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HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — Catholic journalist and outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison on a conviction of “fraud,” a verdict that has drawn international condemnation and rebuke, with the U.S. calling the charges “spurious” in a public statement.

READ: US gov’t condemns Communist China’s guilty verdict against Catholic publisher Jimmy Lai

Jimmy Lai, 75 and founder of the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, was sentenced on Saturday, Dec. 10, with Wong Wai-keung, the administrative director of Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital. Wong was sentenced to 21 months in prison and Lai to five years and nine months. According to news outlet Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the judge also imposed “an eight-year disqualification order to Lai and ordered the media tycoon to pay HK$2 million in fines.”

As HKFP reported, Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia chief urged Lai’s release, stating, “Illegal demonstration, fraud, national security crimes — the diversity of the charges held against Jimmy Lai, and the staggering severity of the sentences imposed on him, show how desperate the Chinese regime is to silence this symbolic figure of press freedom in Hong Kong.”

Maya Wang, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Beijing’s elaborate criminal case against Jimmy Lai is a vendetta against a leading proponent of democracy and media freedom in Hong Kong. The authorities should drop the case against Lai and free him immediately.”

The media giant and critic of the CCP — who has been detained in a maximum-security prison since 2020 — 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. A conviction on this charge carries the potential of life in prison. As RSF reported, “in addition to Lai, six former Apple Daily staff members are also detained and face life imprisonment under similar charges.”

In response to Lai’s arrest, imprisonment, and trials, RSF — which earlier this year published a detailed timeline of China’s suppression of freedom of the press in Hong Kong — has launched an international petition calling for the “urgent release of Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily staff.”

The petition #FreeJimmyLai petition, which seeks 50,000 signatures, reads:

Support the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) campaign for the urgent release of this 75 year-old press freedom defender, who has been detained already for two years. Jimmy Lai is the founder of the now-defunct Hong Kong media outlet Apple Daily and a 2020 laureate of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize. Accused of national security-related crimes and faces a possible life sentence. Help us by signing the appeal calling on the Hong Kong authorities to #FreeJimmyLai !

Detailing the charges against Lai, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “Lai faces three foreign collusion charges and a sedition charge, based on his tweets, interviews he hosted, and articles published by his newspaper, Apple Daily.”

However, HRW noted that “Lai’s trial has already been marred by serious violations of his fair trial rights,” including the denial of foreign legal counsel of his choice, prolonged pretrial detention, an order for a non-jury trial in a noted “departure from tradition for High Court criminal trials,” and handpicked judges to preside over the case.

HRW further stated that, of the evidence cited against Lai in the charges, “none of the activities or speech cited espoused violence or other behavior that would constitute a recognizable crime under international law.”

HRW further warned that “the significance of the Jimmy Lai case extends beyond Hong Kong.”

The Chinese government controls all Chinese language media in the mainland, along with the internet. Since 2020, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have dismantled Hong Kong’s once-thriving independent press, which for decades had often been highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Hong Kong police raided and shuttered Apple Daily, along with another influential outlet, Stand News; at least seven other outlets shut down in fear of the crackdown. Now there are few alternative, independent Chinese language information sources for Chinese language speakers outside of Beijing’s control.

Maya Wang called on world governments to put international pressure on China regarding Jimmy Lai, saying, “Concerned governments should press Beijing to drop all charges against Lai. The Chinese government’s assault on Hong Kong’s rule of law and free media present a global threat.”

As LifeSiteNews reported in October, the U.S. State Department, in a statement on Lai’s “fraud” conviction, “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.’”

On Tuesday, December 13, Hong Kong’s High Court adjourned Lai’s NSL trial until September 25, 2023. The #FreeJimmyLai petition can be signed here.


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