Landmark national security trial opens in Hong Kong for prominent publisher Jimmy Lai

A landmark national security trial for prominent activist publisher Jimmy Lai opened on Monday in Hong Kong, which is viewed as a significant test for press freedom and judicial independence in Hong Kong.

Key details: This trial is Hong Kong’s first on charges of collusion with foreign forces and is tied to the closed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, founded by Lai.
* Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement and faces a possible life sentence.
* He is charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to put out seditious publications.
* The trial also targets three companies related to Apple Daily and is expected to last about 80 days.

Background: China promised that Hong Kong, a former British colony, could retain Western-style civil liberties for 50 years after returning to Chinese rule in 1997.
* However, under the notion of maintaining national security, the Hong Kong government has severely limited free speech and political opposition.
* Many leading activists have been arrested, silenced, or forced into self-exile.

International reaction: Several countries have voiced concern over the trial and have called for Lai’s release.
* The U.S. State Department condemned the prosecution of Lai and urged the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to respect press freedom.
* Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, termed the security law a “clear breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and called for the repeal of the security law and the release of Lai.

Current press freedom status: Hong Kong, once viewed as a bastion of media freedom in Asia, ranked 140th out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index.
* The city has seen an “unprecedented setback” since 2020, when the security law was imposed.
* Another outlet known for its critical stance against the Hong Kong government, Stand News, has also been forced to shut down as part of the ongoing crackdown.
View original article on NPR
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