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Hong Kong Media Tycoon Pleads Not Guilty to Violating National Security Law

By VOA News

January 2, 2024- Update

Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai pleaded not guilty Tuesday to criminal charges involving violating national security laws.

The 76-year-old Lai has been charged with two counts of conspiring to collude with foreign forces and one count of conspiracy to print seditious publications. He issued his plea of innocence each time the three charges were read.

“Not guilty,” the British national said three times as each charge was read. Lai sat in a glass dock surrounded by guards. Inside the courtroom, family, foreign diplomats and supporters had gathered.

Lai founded the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and was one of the most prominent Hong Kong critics of China's Communist Party leadership, including President Xi Jinping.

Prosecutor Anthony Chau described Lai as a “radical figure” in his opening statement during Tuesday’s proceedings. He accused Lai of colluding with foreign nations such as the United States in his public statements urging sanctions be imposed on China in retaliation for the national security law.

The prosecutor also showed photos of Lai meeting with former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Chau also cited 161 articles published in Apple Daily as “examples of seditious publications.”

Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said Tuesday that he and others are named as co-conspirators in the trial.

“If I or others had been working with Jimmy to promote democracy in Hong Kong, it would have been a matter of pride. But, as it happens, it’s entirely fabricated. Jimmy had nothing to do whatsoever with any of my work on Hong Kong at all,” de Pulford said in a video statement posted on X.

“But Jimmy’s case isn’t about truth. It’s about delivering Beijing’s narrative,” de Pulford said.

Based in the U.K., de Pulford leads the alliance, which is a global consortium of lawmakers focused on how democracies interact with China.

He and others including Japanese politician Shiori Yamao, financier Bill Browder and exiled activist Finn Lau, are accused of conspiring with Lai.

Lai was first arrested under the new law on suspicion of foreign collusion in 2020, shortly after Beijing imposed the draconian national security law in response to massive pro-democracy demonstrations the year before. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

He has already been convicted and jailed for taking part in unauthorized pro-democracy assemblies in 2019 and 2020.

The landmark case is seen by many as a trial of press freedom and a test for judicial independence in the former British colony, which was promised to have its Western-style civil liberties remain intact for 50 years after returning to Chinese rule in 1997.

The U.S. and the United Kingdom have called for Lai to be immediately released, saying the trial is politically motivated.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.



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