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Jimmy LaiAnthony Kwan / Getty Images

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HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — Catholic Hong-Konger and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has pleaded “not guilty” to the charges made against him under the terms of the draconian National Security Law, which could lead to a life sentence. 

On January 2, the first time that Lai addressed the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong, the 76-year-old Catholic media tycoon declared that he was “not guilty” in response to the three charges laid against him – charges which accuse Lai of “collusion with foreign forces” and “seditious publications.”

By these charges, Lai is accused of violating the National Security Law (NSL) that Beijing imposed on the island in June 2020 in order to suppress dissent against the CCP. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence, and is already serving a six-year jail term for an alleged conviction of “fraud.”

His much-delayed trial began December 18, 2023, with January 2 marking the fourth day of court proceedings which are expected to continue for up to 80 days. 

READ: Catholic freedom activist Jimmy Lai has first day in court as he faces life in prison

Lai’s trial is officially centered around his pro-democracy activism along with his journalist efforts at the media company Apple Daily, which he founded in 1995. Apple Daily was markedly critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and became one of Hong Kong’s leading newspapers, but was forced to close when Lai was arrested by CCP officials in June 2021. 

He became a globally recognized and respected figure, due to his pro-democracy activism and his peaceful approach to protesting the CCP’s increasingly hostile and wide-reaching crackdown on any dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong. 

Prosecutor Anthony Chau is reported as arguing that “under the guise of fighting for freedom and democracy, [Lai] had on multiple occasions engaged in making requests for foreign governments – in particular the U.S. – to impose sanctions, blocks or engage in hostile activities against [the Hong Kong and Chinese governments].”

“This case is about a radical political figure… who conspired with others to bring into hatred and stir up opposition to the government and the central authorities,” said Chau.

A member of Lai’s legal team stated today that “the pathetically flimsy nature of these charges is becoming plain for us all to see.”

“Jimmy Lai was no threat to national security,” said barrister and one of Lai’s representatives Jonathan Price. “He was a journalist and a publisher who dared to print some home truths that the authorities didn’t like, and a peaceful pro-democracy campaigner, standing up for the people of Hong Kong in the face of increasing Chinese authoritarianism. This show trial should end and he should be immediately released.”

In a new development to Lai’s trial, January 2 saw a number of other pro-democracy figures named by the prosecution, who argued they were “external political connections” of Lai. These included the former U.S. Consul-General to Hong Kong James Cunningham; Luke de Pulford, the executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Luke de Pulford; former Japanese Member of Parliament Shiori Kanno; the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch Benedict Rogers; and human rights campaigner Bill Browder.

Responding to this development, Rogers stated that such a move “shows, as we have said all along, that this is a show trial and has absolutely nothing to do with genuine national security.” 

“The ‘crime’ Mr Lai is accused of is talking with foreign politicians and activists, including myself, and engaging in journalism – which, as the publisher of a major newspaper in Hong Kong, ought to be regarded as entirely normal legitimate activity,” said Rogers.

Echoing a sentiment expressed by numerous supporters of Lai across the globe, Roger added that the trial “illustrates just how dramatically and extensively Hong Kong’s basic freedoms and the rule of law have been dismantled.”

De Pulford responded by observing how aspects of daily life which are “basic freedoms” in much of the world, are “crimes” in Hong Kong. “Jimmy’s case isn’t about truth, it’s about delivering Beijing’s narrative,” said de Pulford.

Meanwhile vocal CCP critic Lord Alton of Liverpool – a Patron of Hong Kong Watch and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong – attested that the naming of “international campaigners for democracy in Hong Kong…shows this charade of a trial has nothing to do with justice.”

“It is simply an assertion of CCP authoritarianism. It makes a mockery of the rule of law,” he said. “The only conspiracy is that which is being organized by opponents of justice, democracy, and human rights. This show trial should be ended forthwith and the UK Government should say so loud and clear. #FreeJimmyLai.”

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, Lai’s trial will not in fact be conducted with a jury but decided solely by a trio of hand-picked judges.

As the trial began December 18, a fresh wave of calls for his release were issued by both the U.S. and U.K. governments. Lai is a British national, with Hong Kong a colony of the British Empire for more than 150 years, only formally handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

In a December 17 statement, Lord David Cameron – Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary for the U.K. – stated that “as a prominent and outspoken journalist and publisher, Jimmy Lai has been targeted in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Referring to the “politically motivated prosecution” of Lai, Cameron issued a call for the “Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution and release Jimmy Lai.”

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