The Hong Kong media mogul has been in jail since December 2020 and faces a long-delayed security law trial in September.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has revealed he raised the case of jailed Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai with senior Chinese and Hong Kong politicians as the UK returned to criticize Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in the former British colony.
It was cleverly revealed in the foreword to the UK’s latest half-yearly update on the situation in Hong Kong (PDF) who had raised Lai’s case with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng earlier this month, as well as at the “highest levels with Hong Kong authorities.”
Accusing the territory’s administration of “deliberately targeting prominent pro-democracy figures, journalists and politicians in an effort to silence and discredit them,” he added: “British dual national detainee Jimmy Lai is a of these figures”.
Lai, the founder of the popular but now shuttered Apple Daily, is the most prominent democracy advocate to face trial under the Beijing-imposed security law. He was first arrested in 2020 and was due to stand trial on charges of “collusion with foreign forces” last December.
The UK report, which covers the six months to December 31, 2022, noted that in November, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled that UK lawyer Timothy Owen could join Lai’s defense team.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee appealed to Beijing and Lai’s trial was postponed pending a decision.
On December 30, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPCSC) announced Beijing’s “first interpretation” of the security law, the report said.
This month, Hong Kong passed a law giving its chief executive a veto over any foreign lawyers involved in national security cases. Lai’s trial will begin in September.
“The actions taken by the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities continue to erode Hong Kong’s social, legal and judicial systems,” Cleverly said.
“Powers that were previously vested in the judiciary have been transferred to the chief executive. Those facing national security charges no longer have the right to challenge government decisions in court.”
The UK report also noted recent changes to electoral rules for local elections, which reduced the number of directly elected seats,
The update prompted an angry rebuke from the Foreign Ministry’s Office of the China Commissioner in Hong Kong.
In a statement, a commission spokesman accused the UK of “distorting and defaming” the Chinese government’s Hong Kong policy, “willfully attacking” Hong Kong’s national security law and the territory’s electoral system, as well as “defaming” Hong Kong’s human rights and human rights. state of law
“The British side’s report criticized China’s fair actions to safeguard national security, made irresponsible comments about the SAR government’s administration in accordance with the law, and made irresponsible comments about the fair trial of SAR courts,” the statement said in reference to Hong Kong. for its official title of Special Administrative Region. “It has been completely reduced to a tool for political actions and has no credibility!”
The UK report also said the use of sedition laws in Hong Kong continued to expand, with people arrested or convicted, mostly for non-violent free speech.
Press freedom also came under increasing pressure, he added, with journalists facing prosecution and some being held in pre-trial detention ahead of their trials.
“The United Kingdom considered that China was in a state of persistent non-compliance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration during this period,” the report said.
The joint statementa treaty registered with the United Nations, was signed by the two countries in 1984 and outlined the plan for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
The commission spokesman noted that Hong Kong, which was returned to China in July 1997, is now governed by the Chinese Constitution and its own mini-constitution known as the Basic Law.
“The British side has no sovereignty, governance or supervision over Hong Kong after the handover. The British side has repeatedly talked about the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’ and the so-called ‘historical responsibility’. This is pure nonsense that distorts the history and legal principles!” said the statement.