Jimmy Lai’s “co-conspirators” speak out after being named in Hong Kong trial

The desperation with which the Hong Kong authorities and, by extension, the Chinese Communist Party are trying to stifle criticism has reached new levels this week, with fresh developments in the trial of publisher Jimmy Lai.

The 76-year-old Hong Kong-British businessman and publisher has been detained since December 2020. His assets were frozen in May 2021 and his publication Apple Daily was forced to close in June the same year. He has been in prison ever since.

On 18 December 2023, Lai’s long-delayed trial on charges of sedition and collusion with foreign forces began. Lai pleaded not guilty.

Earlier this week, the prosecution presented a list of people they termed as Lai’s co-conspirators.

Among Lai’s alleged co-conspirators are Bill Browder, founder of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign and Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, along with James Cunningham, former US consul general in Hong Kong and chairman of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation and Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

Browder and Rogers have dismissed the allegations against them.

Browder told Index this week, “I have never met or spoken to Jimmy Lai and for them to accuse me of being a co-conspirator with him or him with me is a total fabrication. It is just an indication of how illegitimate and trumped up the changes are against Jimmy Lai.”

Browder said that the charges are an indication of how China is “trying to take its authoritarian oppression international by going after people like me who have not set foot in China for 35 years”.

Benedict Rogers told Index that Lai is being punished for “daring to publish stories and opinions which Beijing dislikes; the crime of conspiracy to talk about politics to politicians; and conspiracy to raise human rights concerns with human rights organisations”.

He said, “Jimmy Lai is, as the head of his international legal team Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC puts it so brilliantly, charged with the crime of conspiracy to commit journalism.”

Rogers said his supposed conspiracy with Lai is nothing more than journalism.

“Citing a message from Mr Lai to me, requesting me to ask whether the last governor of Hong Kong Lord Patten would provide a comment to journalists from his newspaper, as evidence of a crime signals that the normal, legitimate, day-to-day work of journalists in Hong Kong is no longer possible. Journalism is not a crime, but in Hong Kong it now is,” he said.

Despite the flimsy nature of the charges against the alleged co-conspirators, Browder said his naming along with others in the court case is “a very real threat”.

“The Hong Kong authorities have come up with the national security law and are saying that Jimmy Lai has conspired with others to violate that law and there are criminal punishments. I can imagine a scenario in which the authorities decide to issue Interpol Red Notices against me, Benedict Rogers, Luke de Pulford and others and request assistance. This is what dictators and authoritarian governments do,” he said.

Browder is no stranger to being singled out by authoritarian regimes abusing the Interpol system.

Browder, through his Hermitage Capital Management fund, was once the largest foreign investor in Russia. In 2005, Browder was denied entry to the country and labelled as a threat to national security for exposing corruption in Russia.

Three years later, Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million fraud involving government officials and was arrested, thrown in jail without trial and kept in horrendous conditions. A year later, Magnitsky died.

Browder has since led the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign which seeks to impose targeted visa bans and asset freezes on human rights abusers and highly corrupt officials.

In the time since, Russia has called on Interpol eight times to issue red notices against Browder.

“Interpol has for a long time been the long arm of dictators to pursue their critics and opposition politicians. I have been a poster child of that in relation to Russia. We know that China and other countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, regularly abuse Interpol and Interpol doesn’t seem to have the controls and mechanisms in place for weeding out these illegitimate red notices,” he said.

As a result of Russia’s use of Interpol’s red notices, Browder said that it has closed off 95% of the world for him and that little will change if Hong Kong goes down the same route.

“It won’t change anything for me but will change things for all other people who have been named,” he said.

Browder said the case against Lai is abusive and he should be released immediately, adding: “This needs a robust response from the British Government. You can’t have a bunch of British citizens being threatened for nothing other than expressing their political opinions.”

Before Christmas, the recently appointed foreign secretary and former prime minister David Cameron called on Hong Kong to release Lai. Cameron said in a statement, “Hong Kong’s national security law is a clear breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. Its continued existence and use is a demonstration of China breaking its international commitments.”

Asked whether the new foreign secretary, who has a record of striving for a closer relationship with China from his previous time in office, would be the person to provide that robust response, Browder said: “I think we are living in a different world vis a vis China and I am confident he will do the right thing here.”

Targeted activists vow “the voices of Hongkongers will never be eliminated”

Pro-democracy activists exiled from Hong Kong will never be silenced despite attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to use transnational repression against them, an urgent press briefing held at the UK House of Commons on Wednesday heard.

This is despite what some are calling a “Chinese fatwa” which has seen the Hong Kong Police Force issue arrest warrants againt eight activists, including Christopher Mung, Finn Lau and Nathaw Law in the UK, and others in the US, Canada and Australia. The authorities have also offered rewards of up to one million Hong Kong dollars for information leading to their capture.

Mung and Lau both spoke at the briefing, which was chaired by Bob Seely MP.

Mung stressed the repercussions of the long reach from the authorities, but vowed he will never be silenced.

He said: “The Chinese and Hong Kong governments are extending their hands abroad, suppressing freedom of speech and silencing activists with a chilling effect.

“But they will never eliminate my voice, or the voice of Hongkongers. For the rest of my life, us Hongkongers will fight together.”

Lau said it wasn’t the first time the CCP had tried to exert transnational repression of speech in the UK, citing the harassment of protestors outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester by staff in 2022.

He also issued a set of demands to the British government in response to the warrants. These included an urgent meeting with both the British foreign and home secretaries, as well as calling for legal action against anybody in the UK who passes on information about the activists for reward.

“We simply need concrete action and measures to tackle this,” he said.

Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, went as far to call the warrants and bounties a Chinese “fatwa”.

He said: “The CCP and their enablers in Hong Kong have crossed a red line here. What they’re saying is democracy is illegal around the world under their National Security Law.

“We need actions because China will keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing.”

When asked why the warrants and bounties were issued now, Lau said that any guess is just speculation.

He continued: “Personally, I think it’s just simply a way of discouraging Hongkongers from fighting for their democracy and speech in the future.”

Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, which monitors freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, recounted attempts by the CCP to repress his own freedom of speech, while acknowledging these have been less severe than those now faced by the eight activists.

“About a year ago I received a letter from the Hong Kong police informing me that what I do with Hong Kong Watch in the UK violates the National Security Law in Hong Kong, and I could face a prison sentence there,” he said.

“I’ve also received anonymous threatening letters from Hong Kong, some even posted to my mother.”

Finishing off the session, Mark Clifford said that the battle with the CCP’s repression will be a long-term struggle, and to ensure talk of damaging trade relations doesn’t affect it.

“It’s an evil, evil country; and we must remember our values are just more important than economic commerce.”

Read our statement on the arrest warrants and rewards.

Argument for urgent intervention in Jimmy Lai case laid bare in new report

The UK government is failing to acknowledge a British citizen unfairly imprisoned in Hong Kong amid a wider targeting of journalists and pro-democracy campaigners in the city state, said the authors of a new report on issues of freedom in Hong Kong.

On Monday, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong (APPG) met at Portcullis House, London, to discuss their new report, Inquiry into Media Freedom in Hong Kong: The case of Jimmy Lai and and Apple Daily, which offers a sobering look into the state of media freedoms in the once vibrant city. Index contributed to the report.

The session was headed by Baroness Bennett of Manor Caste, the joint chair of the APPG. Other speakers included Lai’s international lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Sebastian Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son.

One of the aims of the report is to provoke a response from the British government regarding Lai. A pro-democracy figure, media tycoon and British citizen, he is in a Hong Kong prison after sentencing for unauthorised assembly and fraud charges. In addition to these charges are more serious ones of violating Hong Kong’s national security law, which was passed in 2020. Six of his colleagues at Apple Daily, the newspaper founded by Lai, are also in jail charged under the national security laws.

Kennedy believes the case of Jimmy Lai should be treated as a political priority by the UK government not only because Lai is a British citizen, but also because of the the joint declaration that gives the UK a place in trying to guarantee the rights of people in Hong Kong.

She added: “It is the illegitimate use of law against a citizen by the government, and against the protection of media freedom and expression in Hong Kong.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a vice chair of the APPG, echoed Kennedy’s called for Magnitsky-style sanctions against allies of the Hong Kong authorities in the UK as further action is needed. “We have to go beyond sanctions, to freezing the assets and redeploying the resources of those who have been able to use London as a place for their activities,” he said.

Gallagher said the Hong Kong authorities have weaponised their laws to target pro-democracy campaigners and journalists in new ways. Gallagher, who represents Jimmy Lai, as well as Maria Ressa from the Philippines who was charged with tax evasion, says that this is a new tactic – trying to discredit them by painting them as bad people rather than using the more traditional tactic of defamation. “It’s straight from the dictators’ playbook,” she said.

Kennedy echoed this by stating fraud and tax affair charges are common tactics used against journalists in Hong Kong before more serious charges are later served. They added that as a result of supporting Lai they’ve received a series of threats and intimidation from state actors.

Sebastian Lai said he is also a target for the Chinese authorities. He acknowledged international support regarding his father’s cause but expressed disappointment in the UK government’s attitude. He said: “The language the UK government has used has been nowhere close to what America has used for not only a British citizen, but my father.”

However, he did acknowledge thanks for Anne Marie Trevelyan, MP and Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, for meeting him.

Fiona O’ Brien, the UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said it needed to be waved in the face of those in power, “along with journalists writing stories, lawyers pursuing legal routes and advocates in society. We need to continue to shine a light.”

The report can be found here.

Postcard campaign provides comfort to Jimmy Lai in prison

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”119624″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]On the east coast of the USA around 100 children have sent postcards to a man they do not know who is incarcerated over 8,000 miles away. The man is Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong media mogul and activist.

The postcards have provided a brief ray of light in an otherwise dark chapter for a man locked up for his political beliefs, and the city state of Hong Kong which is currently in the ever-tightening grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Lai is imprisoned on charges most us will, hopefully, never have to face. The billionaire publisher and founder of Apple Daily has been jailed since December 2020 after he lit a candle during a public commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The charges were related to this and his other pro-democracy protests. He is perhaps the most high-profile victim of the National Security Law, which was passed in the summer of 2020 with the precise aim of punishing and stifling dissent. This month he faces a trial without jury, where he will plead not guilty to the national security charges.

April Ponnuru’s daughter with the postcards.

April Ponnuru has organised the campaign on behalf of The Committee For Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK). It was her idea for children at her daughter’s school, in Virginia, to send supportive postcards to Lai after learning he is a devout Catholic.

“My children are in a Catholic school and are Catholic, and I was thinking about how Catholics believe in the idea called corporal works of mercy, and they are these physical acts we do for people that import a lot of grace and mercy, and one of those is visiting the imprisoned,” she said.

She explained how Lai being persecuted for his ideas and belief – not only political but also regarding his faith – inspired her to contact her children’s school.

“This is a great example for these kids of somebody who stood up for their faith and is suffering unjust consequences for that. I thought they could write postcards to Jimmy and tell him they know a little bit of his story, and they’re praying for him and admire him.”

Lai is currently held at Stanley Prison, a maximum-security facility in Hong Kong where he has spent time in solitary confinement. Already a believer, he has found strength through his faith. A drawing of Jesus Christ on the cross done by Lai from prison was printed on the postcards the children sent.

This drawing was originally published in Index on Censorship’s spring 2022 magazine, alongside letters of his, many of which reference his faith.

Ponnuru said: “We thought it would be nice to include some religious art by Jimmy, and it would be a really meaningful thing that this art he sent out in the world would come back to him from a lot of children. For the children it was a great way to participate in corporal works of mercy that they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do so. By sending him a card and message, they are visiting him.”

Jimmy Lai’s drawing of Jesus Christ.

She is eager to point out that she wants any child to have the opportunity to send a postcard, as the message of the project should not be defined just by Catholicism.

“This isn’t limited to Catholic schools. We would love any child to participate, children of all faiths and no faith. It’s about understanding the injustice of what is happening to Jimmy and others in Hong Kong. This pilot programme is just the beginning, and we would be very happy to create a postcard that would be appropriate for students at public and other schools to send as well,” Ponnuru said.

“Overall, a number of people have said to me they would love to bring it to their school, and priests have told me they are interested in copying the programme. We are going to write to other schools to encourage them to join the project.”

It’s understood the postcards were received in prison within three months of being sent, and that Lai is being allowed to read one daily, enabling him to have regular contact with the outside world.

If you would like more information about the project, and to request postcards for Jimmy Lai, please contact [email protected].[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]