Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party, faces national security trial charges that may send him to life in prison.

Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai faces his biggest trial yet

Kathleen Magramo |

CNN – Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai faces his biggest trial yet. It could set new precedents for Hong Kong

A rendering of the Chang’e-8 mission was shown at the International Astronautical Congress held in Baku, Azerbaijan, on October 2.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, known for his support of the city’s pro-democracy movement and criticism of China’s leaders, turned 76 behind bars in a maximum-security prison earlier this month.

He has been in detention since 2020 and jailed for multiple charges linked to Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement and his media business, as the founder of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy, anti-Beijing newspaper that was forced to shut down in 2021.

Long an unapologetically pugilistic thorn in Beijing’s side, Lai now faces his most consequential legal challenge to date.

He appeared in court Monday to face trial on three counts of colluding with foreign forces, a crime under a sweeping national security law that has transformed Hong Kong, as well as a separate sedition charge, according to an indictment seen by CNN. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Dressed in a blue dress shirt and a grey suit, a visibly thinner Lai waved and smiled at supporters as he entered the courtroom escorted by four officers – at the start of a trial that is being closely watched around the world. Police maintained a heavy presence outside the court.

The trial – which is expected to last at least 80 days – is the most high-profile prosecution of a Hong Kong media figure since the city was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997. And it could set new precedents for Hong Kong’s rapidly changing legal landscape.

Since huge and sometimes violent democracy protests swept through Hong Kong in 2019, dozens of the city’s most prominent democracy activists have been jailed or have fled overseas.

But few command the kind of international recognition that Lai does.

Prosecutors allege that articles published by Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper violated Hong Kong’s national security law by calling for overseas sanctions against the city’s leaders. Lai has pleaded not guilty.

Beijing imposed the national security law in the wake of the 2019 protests, arguing it has “restored stability” and closed loopholes that allowed “foreign forces” to undermine China.

Critics say it has decimated Hong Kong’s freedoms and transformed the city’s legal landscape.

Like all national security cases so far, the high-profile trial will not have a jury and will be presided over by three national security judges from a committee that is approved by Hong Kong’s leader. Hong Kong’s courts allow foreign lawyers from other common law jurisdictions to represent clients but the government has blocked Lai from being represented by a leading British human rights lawyer, a decision which is undergoing a separate legal challenge that has repeatedly delayed this trial’s start date. re

Once one of the city’s most outspoken figures, little has been heard from Lai since his multiple prosecutions began.

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