Fighting For Freedom Of Speech – Jimmy Lai’s 1,000 Days In Prison

September 26, 2023, marks 1,000 days of Jimmy Lai, a British citizen, owner of the independent newspaper Apple Daily and pro-democracy and human rights defender, being detained for fighting for freedom of speech and democracy in Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai has been facing several questionable charges and has been subjected to Kafkaesque trials where the verdicts were clear long before the trials began. Jimmy Lai was first arrested for alleged “foreign collusion” and fraud in August 2020. He was released on bail. In December 2020, he was arrested on fraud charges related to the use of office space, a civil offense, and was denied bail. Subsequently, he was charged with allegedly conspiring and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security under the controversial National Security Law (NSL). As Jimmy Lai commented upon the treatment he experienced, “freedom of speech [is] a dangerous job.”

Commenting on this day, Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai, said: “Today marks 1,000 consecutive days that my 75-year-old father has been imprisoned for standing up for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. I’m continuing my call for the free world to keep standing up for him and to demand that the Hong Kong government release my father.”

Jimmy Lai is currently awaiting a trial for charges under the NSL. He faces a potential life sentence for his peaceful pro-democracy campaigning and his work at Apple Daily. This trial has now been postponed several times. It was due to commence on September 25, 2023, but has been postponed yet again. This raises new concerns in relation to Jimmy Lai being denied the right to a fair trial, as in accordance with international standards.

Furthermore, the NSL has been criticized by many governments, international bodies, experts and civil society organizations for its flagrant contravention of international legal standards, as being dangerously vague and broad, and as such, being an invitation to abuse. Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, a cross-party group of legislators in the British Parliament, indicated that “NSL was a turning point in accelerating and deepening an already growing crisis to freedom of expression and the Rule of Law in Hong Kong.” Reportedly, since its enactment in 2020, the NSL has led to the arrests of over 200 people, including 12 children.

The case of Jimmy Lai is emblematic of the wider situation of media freedom and the Rule of Law in Hong Kong. Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, the lead of Jimmy Lai’s international legal team, stated: “Jimmy Lai is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned due to his work as a peaceful pro-democracy campaigner, writer and media owner. For 1,000 days China and Hong Kong have attempted to silence him, by prosecuting him for illegitimate reasons, under an illegitimate law, and in a legal system which is now profoundly unfair. The entire process is riddled with breaches of Mr Lai’s internationally protected rights.”

The current situation in Hong Kong, and especially with the use of the NSL, means that more journalists, pro-democracy advocates and others will be targeted with frivolous proceedings, utilized by the authorities for the sole purpose of silencing them and deterring others from speaking out about the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong.

As Jimmy Lai spends the 1,000th day in prison and awaits yet another trial that may see him being sentenced to life, there are growing concerns that Jimmy will pay the ultimate price for fighting for freedom of speech and democracy – his life. The international community cannot look away as a human rights defender after a human rights defender is taken down, one by one, by authoritarian states.

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