Shropshire Star

Dissident Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai’s son condemns father’s ‘show trial’

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has demanded the release of the 76-year-old British citizen.

Activist Alexandra Wong, also known as Grandma Wong, outside West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts

The son of dissident publisher Jimmy Lai fears he will never see his father again as his high-profile trial gets under way in Hong Kong.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has condemned the “politically motivated” prosecution of Mr Lai, who faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a national security law imposed by China following the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

The publisher’s son, Sebastien Lai, said he does not expect his father to receive a fair trial.

Hong Kong Jimmy Lai Trial
Police stand guard as a vehicle believed to be carrying activist publisher Jimmy Lai arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (Vernon Yuen/AP)

The trial of the 76-year-old British citizen is being watched closely around the world amid concerns about the growing influence of Beijing on the former British colony.

Mr Lai is charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to publish seditious publications.

Sebastien Lai said: “This is entirely a show trial, there is no jury and three government-appointed judges. So, no confidence in the legal system at all.”

With the prospect of a life sentence if there is a guilty verdict, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “That would mean I would never see my father again.”

He welcomed Lord Cameron’s intervention but suggested the UK Government has not been as vocal in the past – his father, who published the Apple Daily newspaper critical of the Hong Kong government, was arrested in 2020 as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

“A lot has happened over the last year or so. But essentially… the support that we’re seeing is more recent from the British Government.”

A group of supporters gathered at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for the case.

Mr Lai waved at them as he walked into the courtroom, where foreign diplomats and Hong Kong’s Catholic Cardinal, Joseph Zen, were watching proceedings.

There was a heavy police presence around the building as the trial, expected to last around 80 days, got under way.

Pro-democracy activist Alexandra Wong, nicknamed “Grandma Wong”, was blocked from approaching the court building by the police.

“Support Jimmy Lai, support the Apple Daily, support the truth,” she chanted as she waved a Union flag.

Lord Cameron said: “Hong Kong’s national security law is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Its continued existence and use is a demonstration of China breaking its international commitments.

“It has damaged Hong Kong, with rights and freedoms significantly eroded. Arrests under the law have silenced opposition voices.

“I am gravely concerned that anyone is facing prosecution under the national security law, and particularly concerned at the politically-motivated prosecution of British national Jimmy Lai.

“As a prominent and outspoken journalist and publisher, Jimmy Lai has been targeted in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.

“I urge the Chinese authorities to repeal the national security law and end the prosecution of all individuals charged under it.

“I call on the Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution and release Jimmy Lai.”

The call comes after Sebastien Lai met Lord Cameron last week.

Mr Lai founded Hong Kong’s now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper but was arrested in 2020 during the security crackdown.

His case has become a key issue, especially among Tory backbenchers pushing for a harder government line on China.

David Cameron meets Arab and Islamic leaders
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron made the intervention as Jimmy Lai’s trial was due to begin (Dan Kitwood/PA)

The trial comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his ministers have sought to ease tensions with Beijing.

Former foreign secretary James Cleverly made the first visit to China for five years when he travelled there in August.

The intervention by former prime minister Lord Cameron, who returned to high office in a shock move last month, is significant.

Relations between the West and China have deteriorated dramatically in the years since he resigned and are far from the so-called “golden era” of relations he presided over.

His appointment led to questions about whether he would be willing to take a tough stance on Beijing.

Since taking up the Foreign Secretary role, he has acknowledged that the Asian power has become “much more aggressive, much more assertive” since he left No 10.

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