The Upcoming National Security Trial of Jimmy Lai and the Erosion of Freedoms in Hong Kong

The Upcoming National Security Trial of Jimmy Lai and the Erosion of Freedoms in Hong Kong
On Dec. 31, 2020, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal accepted the appeal application from the Department of Justice. Jimmy Lai must continue to be in custody until the formal hearing of the Court of Final Appeal. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)
Edward Chin

In recent weeks, the world has been gripped by the brutal Israel–Hamas conflict, marked by its violence and the absence of swift resolutions. Thousands have tragically lost their lives, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the region.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, a city once celebrated worldwide, a crisis unfolds as Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, faces an ongoing trial. This trial, marred by repeated postponements, is set to resume on Dec. 18, under the ominous presence of the National Security Law. Having spent more than 1,000 days in detention, Mr. Lai faces the grim possibility of a life sentence if found guilty.

The events of Aug. 10, 2020, and June 17, 2021, when Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily and Next Magazine, faced multiple raids culminating in the newspaper’s final issue on June 24, 2021, have cast a chilling and indelible shadow over Hong Kong’s residents and those worldwide who hold a deep concern for the city. The National Security Law (NSL), with its vague and ever-shifting “red lines,” has created an atmosphere tainted by fear and self-censorship, erasing the cherished freedom of speech in today’s Hong Kong.

The stark choice between submission and punitive repercussions stands as a harsh reality apparent to all.

Apple Daily, which boldly declared on June 20, 1995, in its inaugural publication, “Apple Daily belongs to Hong Kong,” intended to be a newspaper for the people, addressing a market gap just two years before the transition to communist rule from British governance. Today, Hong Kong is unrecognizable after the enactment of the NSL, with formidable forces seeking to silence free speech.

On another front, the stretch from the summer of 2019 to the present day has marked an unprecedented chapter in Hong Kong’s modern history. People spanning various generations took to the streets, united in their battle for a free Hong Kong. It began with a peaceful march of 1 million, then swelled to 2 million all in the month of June 2019, resounding in a collective message to Beijing: What Hong Kong people craved was genuine autonomy and democracy.

Then, Beijing served Hongkongers with the NSL a year later.

Contemplating these events, a pressing question emerges: How can law-abiding residents of Hong Kong exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression and voice their grievances against the ruling government when the National Security Law has become an instrument that defies all reason? Over the three years since the law’s enactment on June 30, 2020, a series of disconcerting events during Hong Kong’s profound socio-political extreme makeover has created a cumulative effect, compelling many to grapple with the heart-wrenching decision of whether to remain, enduring intense scrutiny, surveillance, and, at times, suppression, or to seek refuge overseas in pursuit of freedom and a brighter future.

The surreal events of 2020 and 2021, with hundreds of police officers raiding the Next Digital building, resemble a military coup, marked by barbarity. As someone who was a columnist at Apple Daily until its ultimate closure, I remember attending court hearings related to Next Digital as often as time allowed until I left the city in the middle of 2021.

In this “new normal,” journalistic reporting critical of the government is no longer tolerated, and the totalitarian regime holds absolute unchecked authority to determine what is deemed “legal.” International businesses operating in Hong Kong must now ponder the wisdom of continuing their operations within an environment fraught with the constant threat of detention and asset freezing.

Failure to conform carries severe civil or criminal penalties, including the freezing of bank accounts, venue closures, suspensions of activities, and staff detentions—an unsettling reality already witnessed at Next Media and online media outlet StandNews.

In these challenging times, it’s essential to remember that the people of Hong Kong have faced numerous trials and significant moments as their city transformed in recent years. Despite restrictions on their physical freedoms, their spirit and resilience remain unshaken. With three years since the implementation of the formidable NSL, the realization that “old Hong Kong” has been irreversibly altered is sobering, leaving the city’s future uncertain.

Nonetheless, the resistance to Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong has spanned generations and brought together a diverse coalition. Students, professionals, civil servants, business leaders, academics, and journalists have all united in defense of their freedoms. Even as Beijing’s grip tightens, the indomitable spirit of Hong Kong perseveres, both within the city and among the diaspora of Hongkongers living overseas.

In conclusion, for those who have faith, let us join our hearts in prayer for Mr. Lai and the six executives of the former Apple Daily, who were compelled to cease their operations two years ago. Let us focus on their upcoming unjust trials scheduled for December. May God send His guardian angels to protect Jimmy Lai and these six senior executives who now face accusations of collusion with foreign forces and conspiring to commit secession under the National Security Law.

Let us pray for mercy and a change of heart among those in power in Communist China and their collaborators in Hong Kong. As Hongkongers, we yearn for a miracle for our city, and we hold onto the hope that Hong Kong will one day be free.

Edward Chin was formerly Country Head of a UK publicly listed hedge fund, the largest of its kind measured by asset under management. Outside the hedge funds space, Chin is the convenor of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor and a senior advisor of Reporters Without Borders (RSF, HK & Macau). Chin studied speech communication at the University of Minnesota and received his MBA from the University of Toronto.
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