Jimmy Lai Pleads Not Guilty in Hong Kong National Security Trial

Jonathan Price, a member of Lai’s legal team with Doughty Street Chambers in London, said on Tuesday morning that ‘the pathetically flimsy nature of these charges is becoming plain for all to see.’

Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai.
Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai. (photo: Napa Institute)

Jimmy Lai, the embattled Hong Kong Catholic democracy activist, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to all charges leveled against him in his national security trial there. 

Lai, the Chinese-born founder of the anti-government newspaper Apple Daily, entered a not-guilty plea to the charges of conspiring to collude with a foreign power. The 76-year-old Lai was originally arrested in August 2020 under that year’s controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government. He has been imprisoned by Chinese authorities since his arrest.

Prosecutor Anthony Chau on Tuesday accused Lai of being a “radical figure” who sought to sow hatred and “stir up opposition” in Hong Kong, according to media reports. 

Jonathan Price, a member of Lai’s legal team with Doughty Street Chambers in London, said on Tuesday morning that “the pathetically flimsy nature of these charges is becoming plain for all to see.” 

“Jimmy Lai was no threat to national security,” Price said. “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 released immediately,” Price said.

Lai’s trial in Hong Kong began last month, launching what is expected to be a protracted legal exhibition capping several years of imprisonment for the embattled pro-democracy advocate.

China’s national security law sharply curtailed free speech in the region in an effort to quash what the Chinese Communist Party considered subversion and sedition in the separately administered region of Hong Kong.

Lai faces life in prison over the charges. 

The activist’s imprisonment has drawn sharp rebukes and calls for clemency from supporters including Catholic bishops, 10 of whom in November “call[ed] on 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 prelates wrote. 

Father Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and the founder of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, told CNA last month that he was doubtful Lai would receive a fair trial in Hong Kong. 

“When was the last time you saw a totalitarian government put someone through their court system and have them come out innocent?” Father Sirico said at the time. “I’m at a loss for thinking of an example of that.” 

The Congressional Executive Commission on China, meanwhile, last month urged the United States government to sanction Hong Kong prosecutors and judges if they fail to release Lai. 

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