Journalists rally for release of detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai

MORE than 100 journalists, including editors, across the world, have united to demand the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, a prominent British media mogul currently detained in Hong Kong on charges related to national security.

Leading figures in the global media community have joined the call on Hong Kong authorities to drop the charges against Lai and other journalists in the country by signing an open letter.

Lai, 75 years old and founder and publisher of Apple Daily, a progressive newspaper, has long been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and a staunch advocate for media pluralism and press freedom in Hong Kong.

His arrest in 2020 amid the Chinese government’s imposition of a comprehensive national security law marked a significant escalation in the ongoing tensions between the authorities and pro-democracy activists.

Lai’s case stands out as one of the most high-profile instances of arrest since the law’s implementation.

Initially charged with violating the national security law in August 2020, Lai has since faced additional legal challenges. He has been convicted on separate charges of fraud and organising illegal protests, allegations that his supporters argue are politically motivated.

The signatories of the open letter, coordinated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have expressed unwavering support for Lai’s fight for media pluralism and press freedom in Hong Kong.

The letter, signed by publishers and editors from various news media organisations worldwide, emphasises Lai’s lifelong dedication to these values and acknowledges his courage in continuing to publish despite the severe crackdown by Hong Kong authorities.

The collective call seeks to draw attention to Lai’s case and highlight the broader struggle for press freedom in the region.

The state of press freedom in Hong Kong has significantly deteriorated in recent years. According to RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, Hong Kong currently ranks 140th out of 180 countries, a substantial decline from its 58th position a decade ago.

In March, Lai’s international lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, criticised the tactics employed by Hong Kong authorities, describing them as “lawfare” aimed at suppressing opposition.

Gallagher specifically highlighted the fraud conviction as a means to tarnish Lai’s reputation.

On May 11, Hong Kong enacted a law prohibiting foreign lawyers from participating in national security cases, which further hampers Lai’s legal defense and access to representation by counsel such as UK barrister Tim Owen.

Lai’s supporters have also criticised the UK government for what they perceive as insufficient efforts to advocate for his release.

Sebastian Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son, recently criticised the UK government for its perceived weakness in demanding his father’s freedom.






     

     

    In response, a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office affirmed that they have consistently raised concerns with Chinese and Hong Kong authorities, including the foreign secretary, in addressing Lai’s case at the UN Human Rights Council in February.

    The spokesperson reiterated the UK government’s strong objection to the imposition of the national security law, highlighting its deliberate targeting of pro-democracy figures, including Jimmy Lai.

    Jimmy Lai’s case holds significant importance, as it encapsulates the larger struggle between pro-democracy advocates and the Chinese government’s efforts to tighten control in Hong Kong.

    It underscores the challenges faced by journalists and media organisations in the region and underscores the fundamental role of press freedom in upholding democratic principles.

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