Mr. Lai is the founder of the campaigning pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, which was shut down in 2021 in the wake of the June 2020 National Security Law clampdown in the region.
He has spent much of the past three years in solitary confinement after campaigning for decades for freedom of speech and democratic space in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).
Arrested in August 2020, he was charged with sedition and foreign collusion under the new legislation. Charges related to tweets, interviews and articles he published in Apple Daily outlining the impact of the National Security Law on Hong Kong’s fundamental rights and freedoms, the experts said.
Mr. Lai’s trial on allegedly breaching national security measures got underway after lengthy delays in December. He faces life in prison if found guilty.
“Jimmy Lai’s arrest, detention and series of criminal proceedings over the past few years appear to be directly related to his criticism of the Chinese Government and his support for democracy in Hong Kong SAR,” the experts said.
‘Denial of access’
“We are alarmed by the multiple and serious violations of Jimmy Lai’s freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and his right to a fair trial, including the denial of access to a lawyer of his own choosing and the handpicking of judges by the authorities,” the four Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteurs added.
Mr. Lai was convicted of unauthorized assembly in 2021 for taking part in previous protests and sentenced to 17 months in prison. He received an additional five years and 9 months for fraud in October 2022.
The UN rights experts previously raised concerns with authorities in 2020 and 2023. In their statement, the rapporteurs said they appreciate and have considered the extensive government responses of 10 July 2020 and 1 May 2023 and stand ready to continue their dialogue with the authorities.
“We expressed our concerns about the National Security Law before it was enacted and will continue to do so, as we believe it is not in line with international legal obligations,” the experts said, echoing the Human Rights Committee’s call on the Hong Kong SAR to repeal the law.
Mr. Lai is the second defendant to be tried under the controversial National Security Law following last year’s trial of 47 pro-democracy activists, who are awaiting a verdict reportedly due next month.
“We reiterate that national security legislation with criminal sanctions should never be misused against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and of peaceful assembly nor to deprive such persons of their personal liberty through arrest and detention,” the experts said.
Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity.