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Hong Kong SAR: UN experts urge authorities to drop all charges against Jimmy Lai, call for his release

22 January 2024

GENEVA (22 January 2024) – UN experts* today called on Hong Kong SAR authorities to drop all charges against pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai and release him immediately, as his trial began in December 2023 after lengthy delays.

“Jimmy Lai’s arrest, detention and series of criminal proceedings over the past few years appear to be directly related to his criticism of the Chinese Government and his support for democracy in Hong Kong SAR,” the experts said.

Jimmy Lai is the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper – closed in 2021 – who has spent decades campaigning for freedom of speech, press freedom and democratic space in Hong Kong SAR. He was arrested in August 2020, a month after the National Security Law was enacted, and charged with sedition and foreign collusion under the new legislation. The charges relate to tweets, interviews and articles he published in Apple Daily about the negative impact of the National Security Law on fundamental rights and freedoms in the region. Lai could face life in prison if convicted.

“We are alarmed by the multiple and serious violations of Jimmy Lai’s freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and his right to a fair trial, including the denial of access to a lawyer of his own choosing and the handpicking of judges by the authorities,” the experts said.

Lai was convicted of unauthorised assembly in 2021 for his participation in previous protests and sentenced to 17 months in prison. He was sentenced to an additional 5 years and 9 months for fraud in October 2022. The experts previously raised their concerns with authorities in 2020 and 2023. The experts appreciate and have considered the extensive Government responses of 10 July 2020 and 1 May 2023, and stand ready to continue their dialogue with the authorities.

“We expressed our concerns about the National Security Law before it was enacted and will continue to do so, as we believe it is not in line with international legal obligations,” the experts said, echoing the Human Rights Committee’s call on Hong Kong SAR to repeal the law.

Jimmy Lai’s trial is the second under the controversial National Security Law, after last year’s trial of 47 pro-democracy activists, who are awaiting a verdict. We reiterate that national security legislation with criminal sanctions should never be misused against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and of peaceful assembly, nor to deprive such persons of their personal liberty through arrest and detention.

*The experts: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Ms. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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