UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly has raised the case of jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai with senior politicians in China and Hong Kong. Lai, the founder of the now-closed Apple Daily, has been in jail since December 2020 and faces a long-delayed security law trial in September. Cleverly accused Hong Kong’s administration of “deliberately targeting prominent pro-democracy figures, journalists and politicians in an effort to silence and discredit them”. The UK’s latest six-monthly update on the situation in Hong Kong criticised Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in the one-time British colony, noting recent changes to electoral rules for local elections.
As seen in the coverage by a report by Al Jazeera, United Kingdom Foreign Minister James Cleverly has raised the case of jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai with senior politicians in China and Hong Kong. The UK has once again criticised Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in the one-time British colony. Lai has been in jail since December 2020 and faces a long-delayed security law trial in September.
Cleverly revealed in the foreword to the UK’s latest six-monthly update on the situation in Hong Kong that he had raised Lai’s case with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng earlier this month as well as at the “highest levels with the Hong Kong authorities”. He accused the territory’s administration of “deliberately targeting prominent pro-democracy figures, journalists and politicians in an effort to silence and discredit them”. He added that “detained British dual national Jimmy Lai is one such figure.”
Lai, the founder of the popular but now-closed Apple Daily, is the most prominent democracy campaigner to face trial under the Beijing-imposed security law. He was first arrested in 2020 and was due to stand trial under charges of “colluding with foreign forces” last December.
The UK report, which covers the six months until December 31, 2022, noted that in November, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled UK British barrister Timothy Owen could join Lai’s defence team. Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee then appealed to Beijing and Lai’s trial was postponed pending the decision. On December 30, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) announced Beijing’s “first interpretation” of the security law, the report noted.
This month, Hong Kong passed a law giving its chief executive a veto of any foreign lawyers involved in national security cases. Lai’s trial is due to start in September.
“Actions taken by the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities continue to erode Hong Kong’s social, legal and judicial systems,” Cleverly said. “Powers once vested in the judiciary have transferred to the Chief Executive. Those facing national security charges no longer have the right to challenge Government decisions in the courts.”
The UK report also noted the recent changes to electoral rules for local elections, which reduced the number of directly-elected seats.
The update drew an angry rebuke from China’s Commissioner’s Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong. In a statement, a spokesperson for the commission said, “The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of supervision over Hong Kong. It has no right to interfere in Hong Kong affairs under any pretext.”
The spokesperson added that the UK’s report was “full of arrogance, prejudice and ignorance, and is a blatant interference in China’s internal affairs”.
The UK’s latest update on Hong Kong comes as tensions between London and Beijing continue to rise. In recent months, the UK has criticised China’s human rights record, particularly its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, and its handling of the Hong Kong protests.
The UK has also offered a pathway to citizenship for millions of Hong Kong residents in response to the security law. The move has angered Beijing, which has accused the UK of interfering in its internal affairs.
The situation in Hong Kong remains tense, with pro-democracy activists facing arrest and imprisonment. The UK’s latest report is a reminder that the international community is closely watching events in the territory and is willing to speak out against human rights abuses.