The Guardian

Hong Kong businessman Jimmy Lai pleads not guilty to national security charges

Hong Kong's pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to charges of “incitement” and “collusion” in a high-profile national security trial that could carry a life sentence.

The accusations against Mr. Lai, the founder of the now-defunct popular Chinese-language tabloid Apple Daily, centered on the newspaper's publications that supported pro-democracy movements and criticized Chinese government leadership. ing.

The 76-year-old is charged with two counts of conspiring with foreign powers to seek international sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

Lai said in English that he was “not guilty” of each of the three charges that were read to him.

The 70-year-old man, wearing a white shirt and navy blue jacket, was surrounded by three guards in the defendant's box.

His wife and several children sat in the courtroom, which was filled with reporters and members of the public.

Lai's trial, which will begin in late 2023 after more than 1,100 days in prison, is being watched as a barometer of Hong Kong's political freedom and judicial independence.

Other defendants in the case include Apple Daily, which was acquired by the Hong Kong government, six former executives of the newspaper, and an advocacy group called Stand with Hong Kong Fight for Freedom (SWHK). Two young activists involved are included.

“This case concerns radical politicians who conspired with others to incite hatred and incite opposition to the (Hong Kong) government and central authorities, and conspired with foreign countries and external forces to endanger national security. Yes,” lead prosecutor Anthony Chow told the court Tuesday.

Chau described Lai as a “mastermind who used his media business as a platform to pursue his own political agenda and orchestrated a conspiracy with the so-called democracy and freedom group Stand with Hong Kong Fight for Freedom.” called “person.''

Prosecutors have described 161 publications published by Apple Ilbo between April 2019 and the paper's last day in June 2021 as “inflammatory publications aimed at polluting the minds of sensitive people.” It is cited as an example of a thing.

Mr. Lai is also accused of providing direction and financial support to SWHK to lobby foreign countries for sanctions, including the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Portugal, and Ireland.

– Suspicion of foreign “connections” –
Prosecutors on Tuesday named dozens of politicians, activists and academics based in Hong Kong, the United States, Britain, Canada, Japan and Taiwan as Mr. Lai's “connections” and displayed color-coded graphs on an overhead projector screen. Indicated.

At least seven people are said to be Lai's agents or intermediaries.

Prosecutors highlighted that Lai met with former US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 and said he had “extensive domestic and international contacts.”

They also went through a list of Mr. Lai's “overt acts” of collusion. The list included dozens of commentaries Lai wrote for Apple Daily and other media outlets, 24 episodes of his chat show, and 811 tweets.

Lai sat with his arms crossed in the courtroom and was wearing headphones. Lawyers previously said this was to allow the trial to be heard more clearly.

When the court adjourned for lunch, Mr. Rai blew kisses to his family, who smiled and waved back.

At the start of Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors finalized the charges against Lai. One count of “conspiracy to produce seditious publications” and two counts of “collusion with foreign powers endangering national security.”

The latter crime carries a penalty of up to life in prison under a national security law enacted by the Chinese government in 2020 to suppress opposition following large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations the previous year.

With the exception of the three Apple Dairy companies, which are indicted as corporate defendants, the remaining defendants have pleaded guilty.

Five defendants are scheduled to testify against the media mogul.

Mr Lai is a British national and several representatives of foreign consulates were present to observe the trial.

His case has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community, but the Chinese government has dismissed criticism as slander and interference.


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