Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Trial of Jimmy Lai, “the most old Hong Kong political prisoner

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Mogul Jimmy Lai is photographed in front of a copy of his newspaper Apple Daily

Agence France-Presse

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Jimmy Lai, music tycoon pro-democracy press in Hong Kong, on trial from Monday for crimes against national security, is one of Hong Kong's most famous dissidents and one of Beijing's old pet peeves.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">He is the first to be accused of collusion with foreign forces under the national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020 a year after major pro-democracy protests.

Billionaire Jimmy Lai, who likes to present himself as a troublemaker, has long supported Hong Kong's democracy movement, which was repressed in 2019.

Born in mainland China, he arrived illegally at the age of 12 in Hong Kong where he worked in sweatshops before founding in 1981 what would become the international textile empire Giordano.

Mr. Lai founded his first publication, very critical of the Chinese apparatus, shortly after Chinese tanks were sent to Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 to crush pro-democracy demonstrations.

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Its two main titles, the Apple Daily and the digital-only Next magazine, were extremely popular in Hong Kong, blending sensationalism with hard-hitting political reporting.

They were also among the rare publications that openly sided with the major pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019. This led to Jimmy Lai being called a traitor by Chinese state media.

Shortly before his arrest in 2020, when asked by AFP why he was not peacefully enjoying his fortune, without making noise like so many Hong Kong tycoons, Mr. Lai replied: I am perhaps a born rebel, maybe I'm someone who, besides money, needs to give a lot of meaning to my life.

The tycoon added that Beijing's national security law would spell the end for Hong Kong.

He was arrested for the first time times in August 2020 during a search of Apple Daily.

In December 2020, a judge granted him bail of 10 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.28 million) but a week later Hong Kong's highest court ordered him returned to prison where he is detained since, awaiting his trial which opens on Monday.

He is, according to his son Sébastien Lai, the oldest political prisoner in Hong Kong Kong.

A different and stricter set of rules apply to national security cases since the cancellation of Mr. Lai's bail, a decision which set a precedent and affected dozens of subsequent cases.

To defend himself at his trial, Mr. Lai chose Tim Owen, famous British lawyer, specialist in human rights, but Beijing has granted new powers to the leader of Hong Kong to exclude foreign lawyers in cases linked to national security.

The city's pro-Beijing parliament went further in May, passing laws requiring foreign lawyers to have special permission to intervene in such cases.

This dispute will result in a separate hearing from Mr. Lai's trial next year.

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