Hong Kong court rejects publisher Jimmy Lai’s bid to toss sedition charge

Hand-picked national security judges rule that prosecution filed charge within the time limit.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai faces possible life imprisonment if convicted under the Beijing-decreed national security law [File: Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

A Hong Kong court has rejected a bid by pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai to throw out a sedition charge against him as he faces a landmark national security trial.

Lai, the founder of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was charged with conspiracy to publish seditious publications under a sedition law enacted when Hong Kong was a British colony.

Lai, 76, is also charged with conspiring to collude with foreign forces under the sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in the wake of mass antigovernment protests in 2019.

Lai has pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him, the most serious of which could see him sentenced to life behind bars. Lai’s trial, which will be decided by three hand-picked national security judges, is expected to last about 80 days.

On Friday, judges Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee ruled that the sedition charge should stand.

Lai’s lawyers had argued that the charge should be dismissed as Lai was only taken to court and officially charged four days after the end of the six-month time limit.

Toh, D’Almada Remedios and Lee ruled that a deadline did not apply as the conspiracy was a “continuing offence” and the clock did not start to run until the last date of the alleged conspiracy.

Lai’s trial has been heavily criticised by Western governments and human rights and press freedom advocates, with critics casting the proceedings as a show trial that embodies the decline of civil liberties in the Asian financial hub.

Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy rights and freedoms not available in mainland China under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”, which was drawn up as a condition of the territory’s return to Chinese rule.

Since the passage of the national security law in 2020, Western-style rights and freedoms have been drastically curtailed in the city, with opposition to Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities all but wiped out.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies