HONG KONG (AP) — The national security trial of popular Hong Kong activist publisher Jimmy Lai entered its second day Tuesday, with judges expected to deliver their ruling by the end of the week in his lawyer’s attempt to dismiss an increasingly charged sedition charge. Used to target opponents.
Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following mass protests in 2019. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a national security law imposed by Beijing. He was charged with collusion with foreign powers to endanger national security and conspiring with others to issue seditious publications.
His landmark trial – linked to the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper founded by Lay – is widely seen as a trial for press freedom and a test of the independence of the judiciary in the former British colony, which was promised to be Western-style. Civil liberties remained intact for 50 years after the return to Chinese rule in 1997.
After Lai entered the courtroom on Tuesday, he smiled and waved to his supporters as he had done the day before. He also subtly blew a kiss into the public gallery. One supporter chanted: “Wait there!”
Before opening arguments, the judge heard arguments from both sides on whether prosecutors had exceeded the time limit to charge Lai with sedition. The law requires that a trial on sedition charges begin within six months after the alleged crime was committed.
Robert Pang, one of Lai’s lawyers, said prosecutors brought the charge too late for the alleged conspiracy that lasted between April 2019 and June 2021. But Prosecutor Anthony Chow said the time limit should be set based on the timing of the alleged conspiracy — which involves at least 160 articles – already finished.
The judges, who were approved by the government to oversee the proceedings, said they would make a decision on Friday. The trial is expected to last about 80 days without a jury.
Lai’s trial has drawn criticism from the United States and the United Kingdom. In Washington, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller repeated his calls for Lai’s release on Monday.
“We have deep concerns about the deterioration of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, and this includes the rule of law,” he said.
But Beijing rejected criticism from Western governments. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that the United States and the United Kingdom made irresponsible statements that contradict international law and basic norms of international relations.
Hong Kong leader John Lee said he was confident in the city’s judicial system and the efficiency of its courts. Some people, especially representatives of foreign governments, have tried to exert pressure in an attempt to influence the court presiding over Lai’s case, Lee said. He said such action violates the spirit of the rule of law.
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