WASHINGTON – An international team of lawyers working for jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai are calling on Western governments to make his upcoming national security trial a greater foreign policy priority.
Lawyers for Lai, whose pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was closed last year under a pressure campaign by security police, said they wanted the European Union, UK and US to pressure Hong Kong and China over the case.
The call comes as world leaders descend on New York this month for the UN General Assembly debate.
“This is a key time for the US to ensure that this case is raised as a very high priority bilaterally in engagement with Hong Kong and China,” Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a member of Lai’s international team, said in an interview Wednesday in Washington. She said the group was distinct from the lawyers who’ll argue his case in a Hong Kong court.
The global team’s goal is to get foreign governments to convince Chinese authorities to drop the charges against Lai, said Ms Gallagher, who has previously acted on behalf of journalist and Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa.
Conversations with various international lawmakers already suggested there would be a strong policy response toward China if Lai was convicted, his lawyers said, without providing details.
So far, all four people tried under the Beijing-drafted security law have been found guilty.
Lai, 74, and six former Apple Daily employees face sentences as long as life in prison if convicted of colluding with foreign forces under the security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020, in the wake of the previous year’s mass anti-government protests.
Prosecutors allege that Lai and the other defendants sought international sanctions against Hong Kong and China through his pro-democracy newspaper.
Ms Gallagher said the legal process Lai faced did “not comply with international human rights standards and, indeed, won’t comply with standards protected under the Basic Law,” referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that enshrines free speech.
Lai has been denied bail while awaiting trial and his case will be heard by three national security judges handpicked by the city’s leader.
Lai’s high-profile case has fanned growing concerns about press freedom in the city.
Several pro-democracy media outlets closed in the wake of the security law, which has been used to jail much of the city’s political opposition. Hong Kong fell 68 places year on year to 148th place in Reporters Without Borders’s most recent World Press Freedom Index.
Hong Kong’s most senior officials have said their moves against Apple Daily didn’t undermine press freedom and the paper was not engaging in “normal journalistic work.”