Jimmy Lai is in West Kowloon Court today. The now defunct Daily Apple founder, aged 76, is charged with “colluding with foreign forces”. He is a British and Hong Kong citizen.
This is a concern to all readers because it is about China’s imposition of Beijing rules on Hong Kong in breach of treaty obligations.
Many will know that when Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 China struck a treaty with Britain to allow Hong Kong to operate with a very high degree of independence for at least 50 years.
This was well summarised as ‘One country, two systems’. The only other treaty signatory was the U.K. and so a breach of the treaty is a breach of trust with the U.K. as well as Hong Kong. Protests in Hong Kong in 2019 led to the biggest pro-democracy vote ever seen in local elections in November 2019. A record turnout, too, in what was effectively a referendum.
Stung by this, and helped by Covid restrictions barely three months later, Beijing clamped down on Hong Kong. This was by using the ‘National Security Law’, a set of rules so wide ranging as to allow Hong Kongers to be ‘transferred’ to the mainland for trial, removing rights to representation and preventing ‘non-patriotic’ candidates from standing in elections. The effects were crushing – protests were throttled, arrests made (including that of 90 year-old retired Roman Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Zen for subversion), 7% of Hong Kong’s population moved overseas (that’s equivalent to five million people leaving the U.K.) All this took place during Covid, butCcovid was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The heavy load already there was the National Security Law.
Fast forward to last weekend and the latest local elections. The number of councillors to be elected reduced from 452 to 88, the rest to be ‘selected’. And candidates had to be pre-approved as ‘patriots’. This leads to another record turnout. A record low turnout of 27% compared to 71% in 2019.
Fast forward again to this morning and West Kowloon court. 1,000 police are on duty. Why? Fear of large scale protests? Hardly. It is a show of strength.
Jimmy Lai arrives from prison, where he has been awaiting trial since 2020. A well known entrepreneur who made money from the Giordano retail fashion chain, he was disliked by Beijing because of his ownership and editorship of the Cantonese language Daily Apple. Something of a rag of a newspaper to be honest, it was nonetheless (like many rags!) the most popular in Hong Kong in any language. Editorially firmly pro-democracy, this proved Lai’s downfall.
The National Security Law was introduced in June 2020. Covid meant it avoided the attention it may have got otherwise. By December 2020 Lai had been arrested on various accounting irregularities and by June 2021 the Daily Apple was gone after police raids and the arrest of senior employees. The last print run was a record. Hongkongers have interesting ways of showing dissent.
Lai’s three years in prison anticipating trial has been spent by legal challenges on his behalf. He is allowed U.K. legal representation under the treaty but this has been refused. The trial judges have been selected by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (i.e., First Minister), John Lee. When the Daily Apple was criticising the police for their role in the 2019 protests the Security Minister was – John Lee. There is no jury because the Justice Minister had ‘concerns’.