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'It shouldn't have taken this long': Family of jailed Hong Kong media mogul to meet with UK Foreign Sec

10 December 2023, 17:46

Sangita Myska asks why it has taken so long for the Govt to meet Sebastien Lai

By Chay Quinn and Kieran Kelly

The son of a jailed Hong Kong media mogul will meet with Foreign Secretary David Cameron this week in a bid to get the UK Government to publicly call for his release from prison.

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Jimmy Lai was jailed last year was jailed almost six years on national security laws in Hong Kong after he founded publisher Apple Daily.

Lai has also been convicted on separate charges of fraud and organising protests, which have been described by critics as "politically motivated".

Sebastien Lai, Jimmy's son, told LBC that he has managed to secure a meeting with British Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister David Cameron this week to discuss his father's imprisonment.

Read More: 'Jailed for journalism': The case of British media mogul Jimmy Lai 'condemned to die in jail' for criticising China

Barrister Jen Robinson, who is campaigning for the release of Jimmy Lai from prison in Hong Kong, told LBCs' Sangita Myska: "Sebastien has been asking to meet the Foreign Secretary since July last year so we very much welcome David Cameron's decision to meet with him this week.

"But it's taken a lot to get to this point and it shouldn't have taken this long.

Hong Kong Jimmy Lai National Security Law Court Case
Jimmy Lai was jailed last year was jailed almost six years on national security laws in Hong Kong after he founded publisher Apple Daily. Picture: Getty

"He needs to call immediately for Jimmy Lai's immediate unconditional release from prison. He needs to support Sebastien Lai in his camapign to free his father and he needs to stand up for this British citizen".

Sebastien told Sangita: "Frankly, I don't know [why they haven't publicly called for Lai's release yet].

"Some people say trade but I think that's incredibly reductive to the UK economy. On a global scale, no one trades out of the goodness of their heart".

Mr Lai faces spending the rest of his life in prison in Hong Kong and a UK parliamentary report declared that the British citizen had been targeted by a "litany of laws in an attempt to silence his pro-democracy voice".

His son Sebastien says that cannot even return to Hong Kong after drawing attention to his father's case, previously telling LBC's James O'Brien that he is in prison because his paper was "pro-democracy, pro-free speech"

Mr Lai reportedly escaped China when he was 12 years old, settling in Hong Kong where he was critical of the authorities in the territory.

TAIWAN-HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-MEDIA-TRIAL
Sebastien Lai, Jimmy's son, told LBC that he has managed to secure a meeting with British Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister David Cameron this week to discuss his father's imprisonment. Picture: Getty

Mr Lai founded and published Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong's most liberal newspapers, which was shut down in 2021 by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Lai, 75, was first arrested in 2020, and is among a number of high-profile activists to be arrested in Hong Kong since the CCP introduced a new national security law in the area three years ago.

Despite repeated calls for the UK government to step in and call for Lai's release, there had appeared to be a reluctance for the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to do that publicly.

Mr Lai's son has condemned the UK government's "hypocrisy" on the matter.

The government says it opposes China's national security law, which has allowed for Mr Lai's persecution, but has not directly called for Mr Lai's release.

“We’ve been very disappointed - there was radio silence for a period of two years," Caoilfhionn Gallagher, who is a member of the international legal team for Mr Jimmy Lai and for his son, told LBC.

“Nothing said at all between December 2020 when he was arrested and December 2022. That’s very disappointing.

Jimmy Lai was a powerful pro-democracy media mogul in Hong Kong until he was arrested by the CCP under the National Security Laws in the territory
Jimmy Lai was a powerful pro-democracy media mogul in Hong Kong until he was arrested by the CCP under the National Security Laws in the territory. Picture: Getty

“He’s a British man, Sebastian is of course a British man…they expect that when something like this happens, their government is their corner, but it isn’t.

“And it’s a stark contrast to how outspoken the US government has been and the European Union has been.

According to Fiona O'Brien, UK bureau director at Reporters Without Borders, Mr Lai's imprisonment and persecution should be a "huge concern" to anyone who cares about Hong Kong and press freedom.

"The repression of independent media in Hong Kong is particularly devastating when you think that Hong Kong had one of the most vibrant media environments in the region," Ms O'Brien told LBC.

"It shows China's utter disregard for human rights and the rule of law, and its determination to stamp out all criticism of its worldview.

"The UK government has a moral and legal obligation to call for his release, and the release of all other journalists arbitrarily detained in Hong Kong.

"If the UK government is genuinely committed to press freedom - as it claims to be - it cannot sit back silently as one of its citizens is condemned to die in jail because Beijing does not like what he published."

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: "We have made clear our strong objection to China’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, which is being used in a deliberate attempt to target and silence pro-democracy figures, including Jimmy Lai."

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