A court in Hong Kong rejected an application to dissolve a national security trial against pro-democracy Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai, who, if convicted, could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Lai founded Apple Daily, and he has been one of the biggest critics of the Chinese Community Party in Hong Kong, including leader Xi Jinping, per Reuters.
Lai’s three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited, have been on the receiving end of three national security charges, apparently including collusion with foreign forces. China instituted the national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, when pro-democracy demonstrations raged across the city. This law brings a potential life sentence to those who have been charged with collusion, subversion, and terrorism.
The report also noted that Lai has been charged with conspiracy to print seditious publications that were linked to Apple Daily. Lai’s publication was shut down in June 2021, when the Chinese authorities arrested the publication’s staff and all of its assets were brought to a halt. If Lai is found guilty of sedition, he could face up to two years in jail, according to the Associated Press.
Lai has spent the past two years in prison and pled not guilty. His trial is set to begin in September. Reuters reported that Robert Pang, Lai’s attorney, had applied to dissolve the proceedings, claiming that there was bias by the court which included a lack of transparency in the choosing of national security judges by John Lee, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.
Pang has referred to the refusal to allow Lai’s British lawyer Timothy Owen from representing him in the case as an example of “persecution not prosecution.” The three judges who were selected to oversee the national security case were chosen by the Chief Executive, who is legally allowed to hand-pick the judges.
China has previously allowed foreign lawyers to represent their client within the country, adhering to what it has referred to as its rule of law traditions. The former colony of Britain has apparently made changes, now that Lai, a pro-democracy advocate is now facing a potential life sentence.