On October 25, Hong Kong District Court Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi found pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai guilty on two counts of fraud. The verdict is just the latest example of a growing trend of repression and silencing of independent voices in Hong Kong.
Jimmy Lai, who has spent a lifetime enriching the lives and livelihoods of the people in Hong Kong, is one of the city’s most prominent voices for democracy and freedom of expression. He was the founder and owner of the popular opposition newspaper Apple Daily, which Hong Kong authorities shut down in 2021. Arrested in 2020, Lai is currently serving a 20-month sentence for publicly commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and his alleged role in pro-democracy protests that swept the city in 2019 and 2020. His trial on national security charges under Hong Kong’s repressive National Security Law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020, is scheduled to start in December; in that trial, Lai faces a sentence of life in prison. If he is found guilty, this would further erode Hong Kong’s reputation as an international hub of openness and exchange.
The United States condemned the verdict of fraud against Jimmy Lai and called the charges against him “spurious.”
“We remain deeply concerned about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the National Security Law,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. “These include increased efforts to wield the NSL [National Security Law] to suppress independent media, to silence dissenting views, and to stifle freedom of speech.”
On November 2, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Spokesperson Price noted that a “free and independent press plays a critical role in promoting democracy and shining a light on developments around the world – whether daunting or hopeful.”
The United States is committed to promoting an open and free press everywhere, including in Hong Kong.
A free and open press ensures transparency, accountability, good governance and rule of law. A free and open society enlarges the space for the fundamental human rights of all citizens, including free speech and a free press. It never seeks to smother them.