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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.