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Jimmy Lai unlikely to receive a fair trial from Hong Kong judges, lawyer says

December 20, 2023 Catholic News Agency 0
Jonathan Price, a member of Jimmy Lai’s international legal team, appears on “EWTN News Nightly” with host Tracy Sabol on Dec. 19, 2023. / Credit: EWTN News Nightly

CNA Staff, Dec 20, 2023 / 11:55 am (CNA).

A lawyer representing embattled Catholic democracy activist Jimmy Lai said the Hong Konger is unlikely to receive a fair trial in the legal system that is now controlled by Chinese Communist Party authorities.

Lai’s trial in Hong Kong began this week. He was originally arrested in August 2020 under that year’s controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government and sharply curtailed free speech in the region.

Lai has been imprisoned for over 1,000 days under the law. He has been accused of colluding with foreign adversaries and conspiracy to defraud and is facing a possible life sentence.

Jonathan Price, a human rights lawyer with the U.K.-based Doughty Street Chambers, which is representing Lai in international matters, told EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol on Tuesday that Hong Kong — long a separate administrative region from the mainland Chinese government — is “now more or less indistinguishable from China.”

“Its legal system has been subverted” by the 2020 law, Price said; that law is controlled by a “politically appointed committee” rather than an impartial judiciary. 

“The judges in Jimmy Lai’s national security law trial … are handpicked judges, licensed, in effect, to try national security law cases because of their political fealty to Beijing,” Price told Sabol. 

“So in those circumstances, it is not how you or I would recognize fair judicial proceedings,” he said. “And you’ve got to remember as well that recently, the Hong Kong director of national security boasted that the national security law has a 100% conviction rate.” 

In “any rule-of-law compliant jurisdiction, that would be a red flag,” Price argued. “It cannot be right that literally everybody accused of a crime is guilty, but that’s how they’ve been operating the national security bill. So I’m afraid we don’t think that he’s likely to receive a fair trial.”

Lai has been vocal in his faith. He was baptized and received into the Church by Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, in 1997. He said in 2020 that his decision to stay in Hong Kong and place himself in danger was informed by his belief in God. 

Price on Tuesday echoed those remarks. He noted that Lai’s faith had “not been made a factor explicitly” in the trial against him. But “no doubt his faith played a part in the conviction with which he pursued his activities,” including pro-democracy activism.

Lai “saw that Chinese authoritarianism would ruin Hong Kong,” Price said. “And he made it his life’s work to try to hold onto the Hong Kong, and the freedoms in Hong Kong, that he loved, and those included the freedom for him to practice his religion.”

“So in many ways, his conviction [meant] that he stayed in Hong Kong when he could have left,” Price said. “He was a man of enormous means and huge international connections” and could easily have left the region to avoid arrest, Price said.

But “he chose to stay, and that is a mark of his conviction, a mark of his faith.”

Lai’s lawyers have asked the court to throw out sedition charges against the Catholic activist. The judges are expected to rule on that request by the end of the week, with the trial itself projected to continue for several months.


No Picture
News Briefs

Cardinal Tagle defends Vatican China deal

October 25, 2022 Catholic News Agency 4

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle speaking at the Vatican on Oct. 21, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Oct 25, 2022 / 07:50 am (CNA).
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has defended the Vatican’s decision to renew its provisional agreement with Chi… […]

The Dispatch

Newly elected Chinese Church leaders allied with government vow to proceed with sinicization

August 24, 2022 Catholic News Agency 15
Flag of the People’s Republic of China / Yan Ke / Unsplash (CC0)

CNA Newsroom, Aug 24, 2022 / 02:21 am (CNA).

Chinese bishops allied with the government have promised to proceed with the “sinicization” of Catholicism in China.

During a national conference in Wuhan, two organizations elected leaders who vowed to bring the Church in China in line with the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.

The 10th National Congress of Catholicism in China was attended by 345 Catholic bishops, priests, and religious of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, reported UCA News.

At the end of the three-day gathering, new leaders of the association and of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) were elected. Both of these organizations are sponsored by the Chinese state. 

The Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China has been split between the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

The Vatican does not officially recognize the CCPA. The state-sponsored congress is held every five years.

Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing was appointed chairman of the CCPA, while Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen was elected as the new BCCCC chairman.

The new leaders agreed to continue efforts towards the sinicization of the Church as laid out previously by President Xi Jinping. 

In 2018, the Vatican reached an agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops in the country; the terms of the deal, which was renewed in October 2020 for two more years, have never been fully revealed. The Sino-Vatican agreement is due to expire on Oct. 22.

Human rights advocates have voiced concerns after Pope Francis said the agreement was “moving well” and should be renewed.

Vatican officials have repeatedly said that the accord between China and the Holy See is focused solely on the appointment of bishops. According to reports, the agreement allows China’s state-sanctioned church (CCPA) to select episcopal candidates, who would then be approved or vetoed by the Holy See. 

In last year’s National Conference on Religious Affairs, the president said that religious practice in China would be brought into line with Marxist views and ideologies. 


The Dispatch

Pope Francis says he hopes Vatican-China deal will be renewed

July 5, 2022 Catholic News Agency 20
Pope Francis waves at pilgrims from China at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 7, 2016. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jul 5, 2022 / 04:49 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said he hopes the Vatican’s provisional agreement with China on the appointment of Catholic bishops will be renewed for the second time in October.

In comments to Reuters published Tuesday, the pope said “the agreement is moving well and I hope that in October it can be renewed.”

The Vatican-China agreement was first signed in September 2018 and then renewed for another two years in October 2020. The terms of the agreement have not been made public.

Pope Francis spoke to Reuters about the China deal in a 90-minute interview which also covered his health, resignation rumors, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In September 2021, the Vatican confirmed that the sixth Catholic bishop had been ordained under the agreement’s terms.

Seven bishops ordained before the 2018 agreement have also had their positions regularized by the Vatican.

Pope Francis said the appointment of bishops under the deal in China “is going slowly, but they are being appointed.”

The slow process, he said, is “‘the Chinese way,’ because the Chinese have that sense of time that nobody can rush them.”

Father Bernardo Cervellera, former editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, told CNA last year that the bishops who have been nominated and ordained are close to the Patriotic Catholic Association, “so this means that they are very near to the government.”

The Catholic Church is still in need of around 40 more bishops in China, according to Cervellera.

In the Reuters interview, Pope Francis said the Chinese “also have their own problems because it is not the same situation in every region of the country. [The treatment of Catholics] also depends on local leaders.”

He also defended the Vatican-China deal against its critics.

“Diplomacy is the art of the possible and of doing things to make the possible become a reality,” he said.

He compared today’s critics and those who spoke negatively of the Vatican’s diplomatic decisions during the Cold War, when the popes struck deals with Eastern European communist governments in an attempt to protect the interests of the Catholic Church.

“Diplomacy is like that. When you face a blocked situation, you have to find the possible way, not the ideal way, out of it,” the pope said.