Britain needs to do more to help Jimmy Lai

Jimmy Lai attends a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters/Alamy

The conviction of Jimmy Lai yesterday on the trumped-up charges of fraud serve a very specific purpose – discredit the 74-year-old Hong Kong media mogul and activist ahead of his National Security trial in December. So said Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who is part of Lai’s international legal team at Doughty Street Chambers.

Gallagher was speaking on a panel held on Monday ahead of the trial to discuss Lai, who has been imprisoned in Hong Kong since 2020. The panel took place at the House of Lords and was chaired by veteran journalist John Simpson. The event was hosted by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC. Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the last Governor General of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes, were also on the panel.

Simpson, describing Lai as a personal friend, introduced the event and acknowledged Lai’s personal wealth, pointing out it would have been easier for Lai to have used his money to escape rather than to “face the music”.

Reading a speech from Lai’s son, Simpson quoted Sebastian Lai when saying the CCP “had to corrupt the Hong Kong justice system, twisting it and bending it to fit their whims. So today, I call on the UK government to protect him and secure his freedom.”

This was a strong theme of the debate. While Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Bryant – two prominent MPs from different ends of the parliamentary political spectrum – were present, there was a general feeling that the British government had to do more to help a British citizen unfairly imprisoned abroad, and there had to be more awareness.

Despite acknowledging the help of the Foreign Office and Civil Service, Gallagher feels the previous and current Foreign Secretary ignored the plight of Lai. She said: “We haven’t met Liz Truss or James Cleverly, despite asking to. Whoever is the Foreign Secretary needs to engage with us and make this a political priority. People need to be shouting from the rooftops about this case.”

Patten stated his admiration for Lai, saying: “I hope we make a fuss about him and continue to do so”. He added: “Not only is he a formidable man, but of all the things that angers the CCP is not only that he chose to stay in Hong Kong when he could have left, but that he is also emblematic of what they find so difficult to accept.”

The continued imprisonment of Jimmy Lai and his Apple Daily colleagues will have strong implications for the residents of Hong Kong, Baroness Kennedy believes. She said: “I think, at the moment, a lot of people in Hong Kong believe that these issues won’t affect them, thinking “oh, they’re only going after Jimmy Lai”.” But as Kennedy pointed out, even speaking to people who have been charged under the draconian national security law (which was passed in the summer of 2020) can see people fall foul of the law. And indeed, her wider point was echoed throughout the talk, namely that no one wants to be the frog in the pot of boiling water, not acknowledging how serious the threat is.

Rebecca Vincent said that RSF were releasing a petition to shed light on Jimmy Lai’s situation, urging the Chinese government to drop all charges against him and release Lai, and his colleagues from Apple Daily, without delay.

Free expression organisations intervene in case of Northern Ireland investigative journalists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”106984″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”106985″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]A raid on the homes and office of two Northern Irish investigative journalists should be ruled unlawful, freedom of expression groups Index on Censorship and English PEN have said in a submission to the High Court in Northern Ireland.

Index and English PEN have intervened in the case of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were arrested and questioned last year following armed raids on their homes over allegations a confidential document featured in their documentary No Stone Unturned, which examines claims of state collusion in the murders of six men had been stolen.  

During the raid, police seized documents, personal computers and USB sticks belonging to family members and copied a computer server that contained years of sensitive reporting by the documentary makers, risking endangering confidential sources unrelated to the film.

Birney, McCaffrey and Fine Point Films will argue in a judicial review case to be heard in Belfast next week that the court should recognise that the search warrants used to carry out the raids were unlawful and improperly executed.

Index on Censorship and English PEN filed a written submission to the court on May 17 after the court granted permission for the organisations to intervene.

“The application for and execution of the search warrants was wholly disproportionate,” the submission states, noting the “chilling effect” of such orders. “That chilling effect is considerably more acute when the application is made ex parte [with respect to or in the interests of one side only or of an interested outside party], when authorities on the rights of journalists are not brought to the Court’s attention, and when the manner of the execution of the search warrants is so severe… such conduct is likely to have the effect of intimidating journalists throughout Northern Ireland and further afield.”

Index on Censorship and English PEN are represented by solicitor Darragh Mackin at Phoenix Law and barrister Jude Bunting at Doughty Street Chambers.

For more information please contact Sean Gallagher at Index on Censorship – [email protected] – or Cat Lucas at English PEN – [email protected].

Notes for editors

The judicial review will be held from 28 – 30 May.

English PEN is a registered charity and membership organisation which campaigns in the United Kingdom and around the world to protect the freedom to share information and ideas through writing.PEN supports authors and journalists in the United Kingdom and internationally who are prosecuted, persecuted, detained, or imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of expression. English PEN has a strong record of campaigning for legal reform throughout the United Kingdom.

Index on Censorship is a London-based non-profit organisation that publishes work by censored writers and artists and campaigns against censorship worldwide. Since its founding in 1972, Index on Censorship has published some of the greatest names in literature in its award-winning quarterly magazine, including Samuel Beckett, Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut. It also has published some of the world’s best campaigning writers from Vaclav Havel to Elif Shafak.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1558600708500-33cfa04e-8965-8″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

New report and guide on free speech in UK universities published

The full report can be read here.

The full report can be read here.

A narrative of safety and risk is hampering freedom of speech on UK university campuses, a new report has found.

Uncomfortable but educational‘ — a short report and guide on the laws protecting free speech in universities by freedom of expression campaigners Index on Censorship — calls for more to be done to create an environment in which free speech is promoted as an equal good with other statutory duties. It also identifies Prevent as a key issue.

The report argues that universities should strengthen and simplify codes of practice to clarify  their responsibilities and commitment to protecting free speech on campus. It also urges student unions to reaffirm a commitment to freedom of expression in their policies and remove “no-platforming” guidelines that involve outlawing speakers who are not members of groups already proscribed by government.

The report identifies the implementation of Prevent — which places obligations on universities to stop students being drawn into terrorism — as having a pernicious effect on freedom of expression and academic freedom in higher education and calls for an immediate independent review of the policy.

Despite near-daily news stories about attempts to shut down free speech on campus, the report finds that the environment for freedom of expression is poorly understood. Incidents are often misreported, while others — especially levels of self-censorship — are not reported publicly at all. A better understanding of the levels of explicit and implicit censorship on campus, coupled with the development of strategies for the better promotion of freedom of expression and at pre-university level are identified as crucial for ensuring free speech is protected.

The report draws on interviews and research of the sector over the past three years and in particular offers a guide to the legal protections and duties related to freedom of expression. It finds that often duties and rights such as those related to safety are presented as trumping those related to free speech, creating a risk-averse culture in which free speech is seen as a less important right.

“Protecting and promoting freedom of expression should be at the heart of what a university does – not an afterthought,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “We want to encourage everyone to consider this as a core value – rather than one that is secondary to other rights and responsibilities.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Jodie Ginsberg at [email protected] or 020 7963 7260.

The full report can be accessed online or as a PDF.

Doughty Street Chambers: Egypt’s arbitrary detention of Amal Fathy clear violation of her rights

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Leading human rights lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers have submitted a new complaint to the United Nations regarding Egypt’s treatment of Amal Fathy, the detained wife of a co-founder of the award-winning human rights group the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

Ms Fathy was arrested after posting a video criticising sexual harassment in Egypt – of which she herself is a victim – to Facebook. After a police raid of their home in the early hours of the morning Ms Fathy, her husband Mohamed Lotfy and their two-year-old son were taken to a police station. Mr Lotfy and their son were released several hours later, but Ms Fathy has been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and other related charges and remains detained.

Ms Fathy is a communications student and former activist and actress who is active on social media, where she advocates and expresses her views on ongoing issues in Egypt especially on women’s rights.

The complaint to the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention, submitted jointly with ECRF and global freedom of expression campaigners Index on Censorship, argues that Ms. Fathy’s arbitrary detention is a clear violation of her right to freedom of expression, her right to liberty and her right to freedom from arbitrary detention.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers said: “Amal Fathy has now been detained arbitrarily for 74 days, in unsanitary conditions, without meaningful access to her lawyers, and away from her family and young son. Egypt has failed to explain the legal basis for her continued detention, but it is clear that whatever the pretext, this is an inhumane and illegal punishment imposed simply because she and her husband have undertaken peaceful and legitimate campaigning on human rights issues. Amal Fathy spoke out about the rights of women; now the Egyptian authorities are silencing her by holding her in prison for months on end, with no proper legal basis.”

Mohamed Lotfy said “ECRF is alarmed by the unprecedented wave of arrests of Egyptian human rights defenders, and Amal is one them, which shows a new trend of violations in one of the worst crackdowns on civil society in Egypt. The most worrying aspect of these resent cases is that they were all referred to State Security Prosecution on totally irrelevant charges such as joining terrorists groups. These charges, if referred to court by the Prosecution, could lead to sever sentences of imprisonment.”

Perla Hinojosa, fellowships and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship said: “Index calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release Amal Fathy.  Freedom of expression should not be criminalised and the government’s continued attempts to silence activists and journalists through detention and the fear of detention is unwarranted.”

In May, Doughty Street — jointly with ECRF and Index on Censorship, lodged complaints with United Nations rapporteurs on freedom of expression and human rights defenders regarding Ms Fathy’s detention.   

Mr Lotfy is one of the leaders of ECRF, which has played a key role in increasing awareness of enforced disappearances, censorship, torture and violations of freedom of expression and association in Egypt. This has resulted in frequent incidents of harassment, arrest and detention of staff. ECRF received an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Campaigning Award in April 2018.

On July 15th, the Egyptian government enacted a controversial law which would monitor personal social media, blogs or websites with more than 5,000 followers. Authorities would have the power to block them if accused of publishing fake news, as interpreted by the government. This  crackdown on activists and journalists limits and controls freedom of expression further.

The organisations have asked the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention to issue a finding that Ms Fathy’s detention is arbitrary and in violation of Egypt’s obligations under international law, and to call for her immediate release, and to ask Egypt to investigate her unlawful detention and to award her compensation.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”Egypt” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”147″][/vc_column][/vc_row]