In the complex tapestry of Hong Kong’s reformed legal landscape, an unfolding narrative grips the world’s attention – a dedicated British citizen and devout Catholic, Jimmy Lai, finds himself trapped in the clutches of China’s national security law.
Lai, renowned as the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, the most popular pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, a brave supporter of democracy, stands on the precipice of a trial that threatens not only his liberty but also hints at the grim prospect of life imprisonment.
The charges brought against Lai, as articulated by the prosecution, pivot around activities that, in any ordinary journalistic context, would be deemed featureless – following international politicians and diplomats on X (formerly Twitter) and conducting interviews with democracy advocates. Yet, within the heavy confines of China’s imposed law, these actions transformed into a perceived “endangering of national security”, resulting in a litany of allegations that could irreparably alter the course of this courageous journalist’s life.
As a devout Catholic, Lai’s actions reverberate with the profound teachings of justice embedded in his faith. The eloquent words of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, penned on June 21, 2007, echo within the courtroom, emphasising the indispensable role of justice in fostering harmony and advancing the common good in human relationships. Catholic social teaching, reinforces the idea that justice, embodying what is right and fair, underscores the duty to treat others equitably – a principle seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, characterising justice as the “maintenance of what is just or right through the exercise of authority or power”.
Catholic teaching on justice is straightforward: “Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each…The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbour.”
Yet, the journey towards justice within the framework of Lai’s trial takes a disturbing turn. A three-judge panel, meticulously selected by the authorities, eschews the democratic norm of a jury trial, casting shadows of scepticism over the impartiality of the proceedings. With a disquieting 100% conviction rate under the national security law, concerns burgeon about the integrity of a legal system seemingly entangled with political influences.
Andy Li, a pivotal figure who made history as the first individual to plead guilty under the national security law in August 2021, is at the heart of this unfolding legal drama.
Li, also a vital prosecution witness in Lai’s trial, unveiled a reportedly distressing tale of enduring months of torment in a Chinese detention centre before his guilty plea hearing. The Washington Post’s chilling report on Li’s ordeal unveils a disconcerting incongruity – despite his admission of guilt, Li remains unsentenced, casting a lingering shadow over the credibility of his testimony.
Li’s crucial testimony, accusing Lai of being the ‘mastermind’ behind the events, now teeters on shaky ground. The reported torture and the looming spectre of sentencing at the hands of the Hong Kong government render his statements susceptible to scepticism.
Luke de Pulford, founder and executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, rightly pointed out the stark reality that both Lai and Li were simply champions fighting for the freedom and democracy promised by the UK government, also written in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Ironically, Luke de Pulford and Benedict Rogers, another British citizen, human rights activist, and Hong Kong Watch’s co-founder, were named “co-conspirator” and “collaborator” in the trial.
As underscored by Simon Manley, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and UN in Geneva, the joint declaration is consistently disregarded by the Chinese government, existing “in an ongoing state of non-compliance”. Despite the Foreign Secretary’s initial call on the first day of the trial for the Hong Kong authorities to cease prosecution and release Jimmy Lai, there’s a resounding call for more decisive international action.
As the world turns its gaze toward the crucible of Hong Kong’s legal system, the fate of a British citizen hangs in precarious balance. The spectre of justice, swaying ominously, beckons for a nuanced understanding of the far-reaching implications of this trial on human rights, democracy, and the diplomatic relations between the UK and China.
At this crucial point, there’s a heartfelt call for everyone to come together to protect our fundamental freedoms, stay firm in our commitment to justice, and unite across borders to uphold the principles of democracy. It’s a time for more than just words. There must be some practical action to go along with the statement, is it not? People can contact their members of parliament and advocate in other ways. We can also pray. It is of great comfort to Jimmy Lai to know that people are united in prayer with him for justice.