China vs. Jimmy Lai: a tycoon, a trial and the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong | Hong Kong

Even before his imprisonment, Jimmy Lai knew he faced a bleak future, but he insisted on fighting for his cause.

“Without fighting, we have no hope. We don’t know when we will win, but we are so sure that we are on the right side of history, and time is on our side,” Vocal Pro-Democracy founder Hong Kong The Apple Daily newspaper told The Guardian in August 2020 while on bail, five days after his arrest on allegations of foreign collusion.

Beijing’s national security law had entered into force two months earlier. Police raided Apple Daily twice and arrested Lai. The company’s funds were frozen the following year, causing the newspaper to close.

Now, Lai is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

His case has been held up as a symbol of the Chinese authorities’ ruthless determination to eliminate popular influence beyond their control and to use the law and the judiciary as tools to suppress “reactionary” forces.

“The authorities want to make sure that it is ruined”

Lai, a 75-year-old British citizen, has been behind bars since December 2020 for his involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unauthorized assemblies. He was sentenced on Saturday to five years and nine months in prison on charges of fraud for violating a lease, but faces much more serious charges of conspiring to publish seditious material and colluding with foreign powers under a national security law imposed by China in 2020.

Loosely defined, the sweeping national security law prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces,” with a maximum sentence of life in prison for those guilty.

Following the Hong Kong government’s attempt to ban British lawyer Tim Owen from representing LaiHis trial, originally scheduled for this month, has been adjourned to September 2023. If convicted by a panel of three handpicked judges sitting without a jury, Lai faces a life sentence.

The treatment of Jimmy Lai, pictured in a shirt and jacket, is being used as a warning to others, observers believe.
The treatment of media mogul Jimmy Lai is being used as a warning to others, observers believe. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Critics say Lai’s treatment goes completely against the spirit of the rule of law and reflects authorities’ determination to lock up the prominent Porcelain critical for good

“China is using him as an example to threaten others…for the greatest deterrent effect,” says Sang Pu, a Hong Kong lawyer and political commentator now based in Taiwan.

The legal process in Lai’s case, from his prosecution, prolonged detention, appointment of national security judges and denial of foreign counsel, was part of a “sham trial” manipulated by China, Sang says.

“Lai was the number one personality in Hong Kong civil society…the authorities want to make sure he is completely ruined,” he says.

Hong Kong leader John Lee last month asked China’s top legislative body in Beijing, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, to clarify whether foreign lawyers can take part in national security cases. Meanwhile, authorities denied Owen a visa extension and forced him to leave.

A Hong Kong delegate to the committee, Tam Yiu-chung, says that banning foreign lawyers from working on national security cases “is in line with the legislative spirit and logic of the national security law” and that those accused of national security could be sent to mainland China for trial. if they couldn’t find a lawyer in Hong Kong.

Dennis Kwok, a former Hong Kong lawmaker who represented the legal sector and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, says the disproportionate sentence for the land lease case, the denial of the right to choose a lawyer abroad and the lengthy postponement of the trial “was not only a travesty of justice, but also a violation of their human rights.”

“Hong Kong’s judicial independence has been undermined by national security…and national security may trump basic human rights altogether,” he says.

Dozens of police officers carried out a raid on the Apple Daily office in June 2021.
Dozens of police officers carried out a raid on the Apple Daily office in June 2021. Photograph: Apple Daily/Getty Images

William Nee, a researcher at US-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, says: “Under international human rights standards, Jimmy Lai had the right to run a newspaper, criticize the government, and even seek efforts by other governments to address human rights violations in Hong Kong. Kong. Under the umbrella of ‘national security’, the Chinese authorities are trying to give a semblance of legality to the draconian censorship and ban on international promotion.”

But the Chinese Communist Party has a very different concept of rights and justice, and its roots go back decades, before the founding of the People’s Republic. Just months before he seized power, Mao Zedong wrote in June 1949 that law enforcement agencies are tools to suppress “reactionaries.”

“The state apparatus, including the army, the police and the courts…is an instrument for the oppression of the antagonistic classes,” he wrote in his essay. On the popular democratic dictatorship. While “the people” obedient to the party must enjoy democracy and rights, the dictatorship must be imposed on the “reactionaries.”

“Suppress them… If they speak or act unruly, they will be punished immediately,” Mao wrote. “Democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries is the democratic dictatorship of the people.”

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