By Liam Scott
June 15, 2023
FILE - Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai gestures next to a copy of Apple Daily's July 1 edition during an interview in Hong Kong, July 1, 2020.
The European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday calling for the immediate release of Apple Daily newspaper founder Jimmy Lai, as well as the repeal of Hong Kong's national security law, which has been used to target pro-democracy activists and China critics such as Lai.
The resolution received widespread support, with 483 votes in favor, 9 against and 42 abstentions. Lai, a British citizen, founded Apple Daily in 1995, and the newspaper became one of Hong Kong's most popular until authorities forced it to close in 2021. Hong Kong authorities have targeted the pro-democracy advocate and China critic since 2020 — partially in retaliation for the newspaper's criticism of the Chinese government. Lai, 75, has been detained in a maximum-security prison since December 2020. His son Sebastien Lai said the resolution "sends a powerful message to Hong Kong that the targeting and imprisonment of my father and other prominent pro-democracy figures, in an attempt to silence them, is not going unnoticed by the international community."
The EU resolution urged "the Hong Kong Government to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against Jimmy Lai and all other pro-democracy representatives and activists who have exercised their freedom of expression and basic human rights." It also called on Hong Kong authorities "to stop impeding the work of all journalists." Lai's detention and the forced closure of Apple Daily have become symbols of the rapid deterioration of press freedom and other basic rights in Hong Kong since the national security law came into effect in 2020.
Hong Kong authorities have arrested dozens of people on accusations of breaking the law, which criminalizes any act of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces. At least 13 journalists and media workers are detained in Hong Kong, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, or RSF.
September trial Lai, who is already serving a nearly six-year sentence for breaching a commercial lease agreement, is scheduled to stand trial in September for allegedly violating the national security law. He stands accused of sedition and collusion with foreign agents — with charges alleging he committed the crimes through his journalism and pro-democracy activism. He faces a life sentence. Lawyer Caoilfhionn Gallagher, who leads Lai's legal team, warned in a statement that "he now faces the prospect of life behind bars, and we now face the terrible prospect of a UK national dying in prison for standing up for democratic values and exercising his internationally protected rights."
The British government has been criticized for failing to speak out strongly in support of Lai.
"It is heartening to see the European Parliament now speak out for Jimmy Lai," Gallagher added in the statement. "Now, Hong Kong must act — before it is too late." Press freedom groups also commended the resolution. "In highlighting the Hong Kong government's persecution of detained publisher Jimmy Lai, the adoption of this resolution is an important step by the European Parliament to address the decline of press freedom in the territory," Cedric Alviani, RSF's East Asia bureau director, said in a statement.
Sebastien Lai said he is "grateful to the European Parliament for their strong stance and important recognition of the alarming deterioration of the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, and for their call for my father's release." "They have shone a light in the dark corners which Hong Kong wishes to keep hidden," he said.