The United Nations human rights experts are urging for the immediate release of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong.
Mr. Lai is the creator of the advocacy newspaper Apple Daily, which was forcibly closed in 2021 due to the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy movements following the implementation of the National Security Law in June 2020.
For the past three years, he has been mostly isolated as punishment for advocating for free speech and democratic opportunities in Hong Kong’s SAR.
He was arrested in August 2020 and accused of sedition and foreign collusion under the recently enacted legislation. According to experts, these charges were based on his tweets, interviews, and articles published in Apple Daily, which discussed the effects of the National Security Law on the basic rights and liberties of Hong Kong.
After experiencing significant delays, Mr. Lai’s trial for allegedly violating national security measures began in December. If convicted, he could potentially face a life sentence.
The experts stated that Jimmy Lai’s arrest, imprisonment, and numerous legal proceedings seem to be a result of his vocal opposition to the Chinese government and his advocacy for democracy in Hong Kong SAR.
‘Denial of access’
The four Special Rapporteurs appointed by the Human Rights Council expressed concern over the numerous and severe infringements on Jimmy Lai’s freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and association. These violations also include the obstruction of his right to a fair trial, such as denying him the ability to choose his own lawyer and allowing authorities to select the judges.
In 2021, Mr. Lai was found guilty of participating in past protests without permission and was given a 17-month prison sentence. In October 2022, he was also given an extra five years and nine months for committing fraud.
In 2020 and 2023, the United Nations experts expressed apprehensions to the authorities. They acknowledged and took into account the comprehensive responses from the government on July 10, 2020 and May 1, 2023, and are willing to continue their communication with the authorities.
“We have conveyed our apprehensions regarding the implementation of the National Security Law and will continue to do so, as we believe it violates international legal obligations,” stated the experts, echoing the Human Rights Committee’s plea for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to revoke the law.
Mr. Lai is the second person being prosecuted under the contentious National Security Law, following the trial of 47 pro-democracy activists last year. The activists are currently awaiting a verdict, which is expected to be announced next month.
The experts stated that laws aimed at protecting national security should not be abused to punish those who are exercising their freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. They also emphasized that such laws should not be used to unjustly arrest and detain individuals.
Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity.