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Landmark nationwide safety trial opens in Hong Kong for outstanding activist writer Jimmy Lai

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HONG KONG — A landmark nationwide safety trial opened Monday in Hong Kong for outstanding activist writer Jimmy Lai, who faces a doable life sentence if convicted below a regulation imposed by Beijing to crush dissidents.

Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 throughout a crackdown on town’s pro-democracy motion below the sweeping nationwide safety regulation enacted following enormous protests 4 years in the past. He’s charged with colluding with overseas forces to hazard nationwide safety and conspiring with others to place out seditious publications.

The carefully watched case — tied to the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Day by day that Lai based — is extensively seen as a trial of press freedom and a check for judicial independence within the Asian monetary hub.

China promised that the previous British colony may retain its Western-style civil liberties for 50 years after returning to Chinese language rule in 1997. However lately, the Hong Kong authorities has severely restricted free speech and meeting and just about eradicated political opposition below the rubric of sustaining nationwide safety. Many main activists have been arrested, silenced or compelled into self-exile.

Lai’s trial is Hong Kong’s first on fees of collusion with overseas forces. It additionally targets three firms associated to Apple Day by day.

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Lai smiled at his supporters after he walked into the courtroom. Some members of the general public waved at Lai to point out their assist. Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, a vocal democracy advocate within the metropolis, was among the many attendees.

Three judges, accredited by the federal government, are overseeing the proceedings. The trial is anticipated to final about 80 days.

Final yr, six former Apple Day by day executives entered responsible pleas to collusion fees, admitting to the courtroom they conspired with Lai to name for sanctions or different hostile actions in opposition to Hong Kong or China. They have been convicted and await sentencing behind bars.

A number of the former executives, alongside two others who additionally pleaded responsible to collusion fees, are anticipated to testify as witnesses for the prosecution of Lai.

Exterior the courtroom constructing, there was a heavy police presence. Dozens of residents queued as much as attend the listening to hours earlier than its begin.

Jolly Chung, 29, was among the many first within the line, saying she would attempt to get in to watch the proceedings at any time when she will.

“As a Hong Konger, I wish to witness this, regardless that I do know he’ll lose,” she mentioned.

Andy Sung, in his 40s, mentioned he got here to witness historical past. “Selecting to come back here’s a small follow of some form of resistance,” he mentioned.

Lai’s trial was initially scheduled to begin final December however was postponed whereas the Hong Kong authorities appealed to Beijing to successfully block his try to rent a British protection lawyer. Metropolis authorities subsequently barred the lawyer, Timothy Owen, from representing Lai, saying it could probably pose nationwide safety dangers.

Final week, Lai’s son Sebastien met with Britain’s overseas secretary, David Cameron, to foyer for Britain’s assist in releasing his father, who holds British citizenship.

Cameron mentioned in an announcement that the safety regulation is a “clear breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and its continued use reveals China has damaged its worldwide commitments.

British and Chinese language authorities signed the settlement in 1984, stipulating that Hong Kong would retain a excessive diploma of autonomy and freedoms for 50 years.

Cameron mentioned he was notably involved by the “politically motivated prosecution” of Lai. He urged Chinese language officers to repeal the safety regulation and launch Lai.

“Jimmy Lai has been focused in a transparent try to cease the peaceable train of his rights to freedom of expression and affiliation,” Cameron mentioned.

The U.S. condemned the prosecution of Lai and urged authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to respect press freedom, U.S. State Division spokesperson Matthew Miller mentioned.

“We name on Hong Kong authorities to instantly launch Jimmy Lai and all others imprisoned for defending their rights,” he mentioned.

The chairpersons of the U.S. Congressional-Govt Fee on China mentioned in an announcement that the trial is a “political prosecution plain and easy and one other unhappy instance of the Hong Kong authorities’s more and more repressive insurance policies.” Additionally they known as for Lai’s launch and urged authorities to drop the fees in opposition to him.

Hong Kong, as soon as seen as a bastion of media freedom in Asia, ranked a hundred and fortieth out of 180 international locations and territories in Reporters With out Borders’ newest World Press Freedom Index. The group mentioned town had seen an “unprecedented setback” since 2020, when the safety regulation was imposed.

On-line information outlet Stand Information, recognized for its brazenly important stance in opposition to the Hong Kong authorities, was compelled to close down below the crackdown, with its two former high editors being charged with sedition.

The governments of each Hong Kong and China have hailed the regulation for bringing again stability to town.

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