The Hong Kong government has condemned US politicians’ calls for a joint effort with the UK to prioritise the release of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai by sanctioning Hong Kong officials, prosecutors, and judges involved in national security law detentions.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai. File photo: Supplied.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Hong Kong government condemned the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s (CECC) call for sanctions on judicial officers and prosecutors, adding that they were “interfering in judicial proceedings of the HKSAR” in a court case involving the Apple Daily founder.

It came after the Commission wrote to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday urging him to “publicly make the release of Jimmy Lai and other political prisoners in Hong Kong a priority.” It followed remarks by Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai, who said at a CECC hearing last month that London had not publicly condemned the mogul’s detention.

Lai, 75, who has been remanded in custody since December 2020, is currently facing trial under the Beijing-imposed national security law and the colonial-era sedition law.

Sebastien Lai
Sebastien Lai, son of media mogul Jimmy Lai, attends a hearing held by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) on May 11, 2023. Photo: CECC YouTube screenshot.

The media tycoon, a British citizen, stands accused of two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and one count of collusion with foreign forces. He was also charged under the sedition law over allegedly seditious publications.

‘Coordinate actions’

In its letter to Sunak, the CECC called on the UK to “coordinate actions with the US Government” by making a joint sanctions announcement for Hong Kong officials, prosecutors, and judges, advocating a UN Human Rights Council resolution to condemn political detention in Hong Kong, and requesting a UN Security Council briefing on the security law.

The Commission also urged London to ensure citizens’ protection from the security law by suspending extradition agreements, warning companies operating in Hong Kong of national security risks, and taking action against financial institutions “complicit in the expropriation of assets under the guise of national security.”

The local government, in its Thursday statement, “strongly opposed” the CECC’s letter, as “interfering in judicial proceedings” in Lai’s court case, as it “vehemently condemned” the Commission’s calls for sanctions.

Apple Daily
Apple Daily’s final edition on June 23, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Making a statement with the intent to interfere with or obstruct the course of justice, or engaging in conduct with the same intent, may even constitute the offence of criminal contempt of court or the offence of perverting the course of justice,” the statement read.

A government spokesman said “the Department of Justice controls criminal prosecutions, free from any interference,” adding that “everyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to a fair hearing.”

“The US politicians’ arbitrary and unreasonable bullying act has seriously violated international norms and grossly interfered in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs at large. It is a blatant attempt to undermine the rule of law of Hong Kong and will only expose their own weakness and be doomed to fail,” it read.

Calls on overseas governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China are considered to be collusion with foreign forces, an offense under the sweeping security legislation which also targets secession, subversion and terrorist activities.

Foreign Ministry comments on case

The Commissioner’s Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the HKSAR also expressed its disapproval of the CECC’s letter in a statement on Thursday, and denied Lai’s court case had anything to with “freedom of the press and speech.”

china hong kong emblem
File photo: GovHK.

The spokesman added that the Commission’s coordination efforts “will only prove to be another flop.”

Despite the Hong Kong government accusing US politicians of obstructing an ongoing court case with their statement, the foreign ministry claimed that, in 2019, “anti-China force Jimmy Lai incited violence and openly said he was “fighting for the United States.”

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James is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He has a bachelor’s degree in English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, with a minor in Journalism. He was previously a reporter at The Standard.