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Hong Kong police are ‘weaponizing’ the law against outspoken media mogul: lawyers

Lawyers for jailed pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai, who is awaiting trial under a draconian national security law, have called on the United Nations to investigate the multiple criminal cases against him.

Lai’s legal team led by Caoilfhionn Gallagher at Doughty Street Chambers filed an urgent appeal over “legal harassment” against him, saying he had been jailed simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly and the right to peaceful protest.

The 74-year-old founder of the now-defunct Next Media empire, whose flagship Apple Daily newspaper was forced to close amid an investigation by the national security police, has been repeatedly targeted by the Hong Kong authorities, the firm said in a statement on its website.

“Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly targeted Mr Lai, … and this has intensified since the passing of the controversial National Security Law in 2020,” it said.

It said Lai faces a “barrage” of legal cases, including four separate criminal prosecutions arising from his attendance at and participation in various protests in Hong Kong between 2019-2020, including most recently in relation to his participation in a vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing, for which he received a 13-month prison sentence.

He is currently serving concurrent prison sentences in relation to all four protest cases, while awaiting trial for “collusion with foreign powers” and “sedition” in relation to editorials published in Apple Daily.

The appeal calls on the United Nations to consider all of the cases against Lai “as they constitute prosecutorial, judicial and legal harassment of Mr. Lai, because of his advocacy of democracy and the rights to protest and freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” it said.

“The appeal also highlights intimidatory tactics used against Mr. Lai’s lawyers, which raise further concerns,” the statement said.

Lai’s son Sebastien Lai welcomed the move.

“My dad’s trials are piling up with no end in sight,” he said. “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] may have swapped their guns for a gavel. But with patience, a gavel can do as much damage, and make much less noise.”

“I urge the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to investigate what the CCP through the Hong Kong government is doing to my father and dozens of other brave Hong Kongers.”

Gallagher said the cases against Lai are “spurious,” and that Lai could spend the rest of his life in prison simply for speaking out to defend Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“[The] appeal details how the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities are weaponizing the law against him – using the pretext of national security and a range of legal measures not only to silence and punish him for expressing his views, but also to deter others from doing the same,” she said.

The Hong Kong national security police said the allegations were “groundless,” and that the national security law “safeguards … many rights and freedoms.”

Lai has been in Stanley Prison for nearly 18 months.

The appeal came as Hong Kong activist Max Chung pleaded guilty to “organizing an unauthorized assembly” in Yuen Long in protest at an attack by white-clad mobsters wielding sticks on passers-by and passengers in the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019.

He was convicted by District Court judge Amanda Woodcock on April 11.

Some 288,000 protesters went to Yuen Long on the day of the protest, which drew widespread public anger against the police, who didn’t respond to multiple emergency calls from the scene until nearly 40 minutes had elapsed.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.