Jimmy Lai, a media mogul and champion of freedom of expression and democracy, was put on trial in Hong Kong on Monday after a year-long trial delay. He has been accused of numerous crimes, including collaboration with foreign forces, but supporters around the world say his real crime has been criticizing China’s ruling Communist Party and its crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong.
Lai has been in prison for the past three years on charges filed under. If convicted of the charges, Lai faces up to life in prison.
Journalists gathered around the van carrying Lai when it arrived at the courthouse on Monday. His backers, along with foreign diplomats, were also there hoping to get a seat at the historic trial.
In the early 2000s, Lai was a rich, powerful, fearless critic of China and the central Chinese government’s steady erosion of freedoms in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
His newspaper, the widely read Apple Daily, was equally critical.
Lai knew he was on thin ice, but he refused to leave Hong Kong even as China cemented its control over the region.
“If I disgrace myself, I discredit Apple Daily and also undermine the solidarity of the democratic movement,” he once told The Associated Press. “It’s something I have to take responsibility for.”
In the summer of 2020, a year after unprecedented, the authorities had had enough. About 100 police officers raided Apple Daily’s offices, shut down the paper and . He has been locked up ever since.
His trial is now underway, but his son Sebastian does not expect justice.
“There is no jury. The security minister boasted of 100% conviction. So this is not going to be a fair trial,” he told the AP. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
The rights group Amnesty International agrees. It has dismissed the trial as a sham, and observers inside and outside Hong Kong believe that the point of the exercise is really to ensure that a muzzled Jimmy Lai spends the rest of his days in prison.