Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong media mogul and free speech advocate who challenged China, goes on trial


Jimmy Lai, a media mogul and advocate for freedom of expression and democracy, went on trial in Hong Kong on Monday after a year-long delay in proceedings. He has been accused of several crimes, including collusion with foreign forces, but his supporters around the world say his real crime has been criticizing China's ruling Communist Party and its crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong.

Lai has been in prison for the past three years on charges brought under China's sweeping new national security law. If he is convicted of the charges, Lai could face life in prison.

Journalists gathered around the van carrying Lai when it arrived at the courthouse on Monday. His supporters, along with foreign diplomats, were also there, hoping to get a seat at the historic trial.

In the early 2000s, Lai was a wealthy, powerful and fearless critic of China and the Chinese central government's steady erosion of freedoms in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

Hong Kong protester Jimmy Lai says: 'We are fighting the first battle of the new cold war' between the West and China 00:58

His newspaper, the widely read Apple Daily, was equally critical.

Lai knew he was walking a tightrope, but he refused to abandon Hong Kong even as China consolidated its control over the region.

“If I disgrace myself, I discredit Apple Daily and I also undermine the solidarity of the democratic movement,” he once told The Associated Press. “It's something, I have to take responsibility.”

For summer 2020, one year after an unprecedented increase Pro-democracy protests spread across Hong Kong, the authorities had had enough. About 100 police officers raided the offices of Apple Daily, closed the newspaper and stopped Lai. He's been locked up ever since.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily, detained by national security unit in Hong Kong
Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily, is arrested in Hong Kong on August 10, 2020. TYRONE SIU/REUTERS

His trial is already underway, but his son Sebastián does not expect justice.

“There is no jury. The Minister of Security boasted of having a 100% conviction rate. Therefore, this will not be a fair trial,” he told the AP. “I don't think there's any doubt about that.”

Human rights group Amnesty International agrees. He has dismissed the trial as a sham, and observers inside and outside Hong Kong believe the point of the exercise is actually to ensure that a gagged Jimmy Lai spends the rest of his days in prison.

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