Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Britain has called on China to end its prosecution of media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai whose long-awaited national security trial has started in Hong Kong.

The landmark trial for the leading China critic opened amid tight security, with 76-year-old Lai battling charges that he colluded with foreign forces.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron issued a statement calling for his release: “I am gravely concerned that anyone is facing prosecution under the National Security Law, and particularly concerned at the politically motivated prosecution of British national Jimmy Lai.

“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.

“I urge the Chinese authorities to repeal the National Security Law and end the prosecution of all individuals charged under it.

“I call on the Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution and release Jimmy Lai.”

Image:
Members of the media wait outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts

Queues formed outside the West Kowloon Law Court building the night before the closely anticipated trial, with scores of police also on the scene.

Hong Kong’s security chief warned last week any attempts to disrupt proceedings would not be tolerated.

Lai, the founder of now-closed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and one of the most prominent Hong Kong critics of the Chinese Communist Party, has faced much litigation since a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

He appeared calm and thinner than in previous court appearances as proceedings started, smiling and waving to the packed court.

Lai, flanked by four guards, was seen reading court documents as his lead lawyer, Robert Pang, addressed the three judges in wigs and red robes.

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“When fundamental rights are engaged, any protection must be interpreted generously in favour of Mr Lai and narrowly
for the prosecution,” Mr Pang told the court.

Lai has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Image:
Police officers stand guard outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts

Lai was brought to the court building in a prison van in a police convoy.

A security cordon was set up around the court building, with uniformed, riot and plainclothes police, armoured vehicles and sniffer dogs on site.

Some supporters of Lai, who faces possible life imprisonment, lined up overnight in the winter chill to secure a
spot in the courtroom.

“Lai has been detained in prison for almost three years now. I want to witness this,” said Jolly Chung, a 29-year-old. “If he can’t come out and has to die in prison, I hope he can be proud of himself, and many Hong Kongers want to say thank you to him.”

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Western democracies, including the US, Britain and the European Union, are watching closely, with the trial looming as a fresh diplomatic flashpoint and a key test for Hong Kong’s judicial independence and freedoms under the sweeping national security law imposed by China in 2020.

Lai, who China’s foreign ministry recently called a “notorious anti-China element”, has been behind bars now for over 1,000 days.

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The post UK calls for release of Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai as trial starts appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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