HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s government has refused permission for jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to be represented by a British lawyer at his upcoming national security trial, a court heard Friday (Sep 30).
Lai and a group of executives from the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper are being prosecuted for “colluding with foreign forces”, an offence under a new security law China imposed on Hong Kong to stamp out dissent.
Lawyers from common law jurisdictions are able to work within Hong Kong’s legal system, particularly for cases where their specific expertise may be required.
On Friday, High Court judge Alex Lee confirmed that the Secretary for Justice and Hong Kong’s Bar Association had both opposed the application for “London counsel” for Lai.
The justice department said it did not comment on individual cases while the chairman of the bar association did not respond to a request for comment.
Lai’s lawyer Robert Pang told AFP on Friday that he expected the dispute over legal representation would be resolved before the trial begins in early December.
Lai, 74, is one of Hong Kong’s best-known pro-democracy activists. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
For years, his Apple Daily tabloid newspaper was scathing in its criticism of China’s Communist Party and openly supportive of democracy.
It collapsed last year after its funds were frozen under the security law and many of its senior staff were charged alongside Lai, primarily for their campaigning for international sanctions against China.
Six Apple Daily executives have indicated that they plan to plead guilty, but Lai has said he will contest the charges.
Last month Hong Kong’s justice secretary announced the media tycoon’s trial would be heard by three security law judges and not a jury.
The security law was imposed after huge and sometimes violent democracy protests swept Hong Kong in 2019.