In December 2022, Hong Kong’s rapidly shrinking civic space caught up with media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who landed in prison
on charges of fraud. Then 74 years old, he was sentenced to five years and nine months in jail.
Lai also faces charges for colluding with foreign forces, for which he could be given a life sentence if convicted.
Last week, his son, Sebastien Lai Sung-yan, raised fears
that his father might die in prison, particularly as his trial might be delayed indefinitely, according to Jimmy's lawyers. Sebastian also slammed the British government for dragging its feet on the case, particularly as his father is a British national.
“If they are willing to sacrifice human rights for trade, I think it’s a big misstep,” Sebastien Lai said
Jimmy’s trial was initially scheduled for December last year but has faced several delays since. The trial is now scheduled for Dec. 18.
Jimmy Lai was arrested under the sweeping National Security Law (NSL), which Beijing hoisted
onto Hong Kong in July 2020. The law’s overly broad provisions and exceedingly harsh punishments make it the perfect tool to clamp down on dissent and curtail civic freedoms.
“With the government pulling all its weight against Jimmy Lai, a reasonable observer may wonder whether the outcome of the trial is already ordained,” says Johannes Chan, a visiting professor of law at University College London and the former dean of faculty and chair of public law at the University of Hong Kong, in an article
he wrote for the U.S.-Asia Law Institute.
“The coming trial is no longer only a trial of Mr. Lai, but a trial of the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the legal system.”
Over the last three years, as of July 1, 2023, a total 264 individuals
have been arrested by the Hong Kong police for national security crimes, says China File, citing data from the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. This number translates to an average of 7.3 people arrested per month.
The long arm of the NSL has not spared even overseas Hong Kong activists, with bounties of up to HK$1 million (US$127,782) for anyone who can provide information leading to their arrest, according to the online magazine.