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International letter calls on Biden for help with jailed Hong Kong Catholic

Hong Kong newspaper with Jimmy Lai photo

Yan ZHAO | AFP

John Burger - published on 09/29/23

Jimmy Lai, 75, has spent 1,000 days in jail awaiting trial.

Jimmy Lai, a prominent Catholic in Hong Kong whose Apple Daily newspaper was shut down by the Chinese government, has been in jail for 1,000 days. He is awaiting a trial that was originally scheduled for last December, but is now expected to be held at the end of this year.

The Washington, DC-based Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation on Tuesday published a letter calling on President Biden to urge the Hong Kong government to “immediately and unconditionally release” the media mogul.

The letter was co-signed by 67 US- and UK-based groups that advocate for democracy in Hong Kong.

“Lai was wrongfully detained on December 31, 2020, on charges under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law (NSL),” the September 26 letter read. “In addition to his current jail sentence for spurious fraud charges, Lai served a 20-month prison sentence for peacefully protesting in 2019 and 2020. After multiple delays to the start of his NSL trial, Lai’s trial is now due to begin on December 18.”

The letter said that Apple Daily, a Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper, was “forcibly shut by the Hong Kong government in 2021 after 500 police officers raided its offices and froze its bank accounts for supporting protests calling for greater democracy in the city and for condemning the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” 

It said that since Beijing imposed the NSL in the former British colony on June 30, 2020, “it has been broadly and arbitrarily applied in arresting 264 individuals for national security crimes,” including the 75-year-old Lai. “In court cases to date, the government boasts a 100% conviction rate. The wide scope of NSL-related targeting of academics, media outlets, and civil society organizations has negatively affected millions of Hong Kongers, and the UN Human Rights Committee has recommended that the government take ‘concrete steps’ to repeal the NSL and “in the meantime, refrain from applying it.”

The signers called on the U.S. government to hold Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee as well as Hong Kong and Chinese officials to account “for the unjust imprisonment” of Lai and other political prisoners in Hong Kong, and ensure that the U.S.-sanctioned Lee and other Hong Kong officials are not invited to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco this November.

The Chinese government called the letter “blatant political interference” in Hong Kong affairs and the territory’s judiciary.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and an outspoken advocate of religious freedom and civil liberties, was arrested in 2022 on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the National Security Law. Later that year, he was found guilty of failing to register a pro-democracy charity in the territory and ordered to pay a $512 fine.

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ChinaHong Kong
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