Editor’s note: The following is the first of a series of opinion articles focused on Western forces’ efforts to derail the trial of Jimmy Lai Chee-ying.
Ever since the beginning of the national security trial of former media magnate Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, some politicians and media outlets in the West, especially in the United States, have been recklessly fabricating deceptive narratives and multiple lies to smear the legal system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for their own purposes and to interfere with Lai’s ongoing trial. Their farcical efforts to deceive the public and manipulate public opinion exposed their meanness and shamelessness. Lies — no matter how polished — cannot overturn the truth.
First, it is extremely absurd and irrational to portray Lai as an “honest media person, a devout Christian and a fighter for democracy”.
The now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, founded and run by Lai, was widely known for its problematic practice of publishing fake news, and its raunchy features, which generated the bulk of its readership. The newspaper and its affiliated publications were taken to task at least 100 times by the Obscene Articles Tribunal under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, indicating the publication’s innate nature of immorality and iniquity. The newspaper, being devoid of media ethics, was a “rotten apple” in the media industry that was widely rejected by right-minded readers. Far from being “a media man of courage and integrity”, Lai is considered a disgraceful “bad sheep” by his contemporaries in Hong Kong.
For decades, Lai used his media platforms to stir up conflict, incite social confrontation, instigate hatred and glorify violence. He was also found guilty of fraud in a contract dispute in 2022. He is not a “devout Christian”; his conduct went against his religion, which espouses peace, fraternity and honesty. Nothing is more devious and despicable than masking a fraudulent businessman under the cloak of the Christian religion.
It is an open secret that Lai has been financially supporting anti-China forces, especially the secessionists in Hong Kong, for years. He was accused of planning, organizing and directing a series of illegal activities, including but not limited to secession and sedition during the insurrection riots in 2019. In particular, he publicly lobbied foreign governments to impose sanctions on the Chinese central government and the HKSAR. By declaring that he would “fight for the US”, Lai colluded with multiple external forces at the expense of the peace and prosperity of his own city as well as the motherland. His defiance lies in the fact that, under his leadership, Apple Daily continued publishing seditious articles to solicit external intervention even after the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. He is not a “fighter of democracy and humanity” but a culprit who undermined the constitutional order of the HKSAR. By instigating a “color revolution” in the city, Lai was not a fighter but a traitor who endangered national security!
Lai will receive a trial that is fair and complies with international standards of criminal justice. Western politicians and media outlets should cease their farcical efforts to derail Lai’s trial
Devils should not be portrayed as angels, and evil should be exposed. The farcical efforts of Western media and politicians to glorify Lai, a convicted prisoner, will inevitably be condemned for being involved with evil.
Second, the Western media’s clamor over Lai’s “unfair trial” is like calling black white.
According to some Western media, the so-called “prolonged pre-trial detention” is one of the “injustices” that Lai is suffering. This is a devious denial of the facts. Lai was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison when he was found guilty of two counts of fraud for covering up the operation of a private company, Dico Consultants Ltd, from the headquarters of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper. Since his time in prison has not yet been served, the “pre-trial detention” label is misleading.
Repeated postponement of Lai’s national security trial did indeed occur, but this was caused by the defendant and his lawyers, who deliberately delayed the legal proceedings because of ulterior motives. The Western media’s misleading claim of “prolonged pre-trial detention” begs questions. The West’s devious attempt to blame the SAR government for the delay was deceptive and misleading — what presumptuous arrogance!
Some media have reported that the trial is unfair because it is being held without a jury and with designated judges. They conveniently forget the fact that such a practice is common in national security cases in many jurisdictions around the world, including the US and other Western countries. The practice is widely deemed as reasonable and fair. Don’t Western politicians and media know this?
Some have said that Lai should be granted bail, which is another example of double standards. The National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) stipulates that “no bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security”. It is legal, as well as reasonable, to deny him bail on national security grounds, a practice which is not unusual in many other jurisdictions. In fact, Lai was once released on bail in 2020, but he was found to be in contact with foreign politicians and anti-China elements. Since Lai might well jeopardize national security, the court had sufficient legal grounds to deny him bail. Did these politicians and media players do their homework and figure out the inner logic of the situation?
Lai was denied his first choice of a lawyer to represent him in court because the lawyer in question, a King’s Counsel in the UK, is not qualified to practice law in Hong Kong. The National Security Council of the HKSAR considered that the King’s Counsel’s involvement would pose a national security risk, which is also common practice in many jurisdictions around the world. Now, Lai’s elite legal team includes solicitors and foreign senior barristers who are fully qualified to practice in Hong Kong. Are these Western politicians and media deliberately turning a blind eye to the fact?
It is Lai’s team, together with Western politicians, and the biased Western media that are putting the fair trial in jeopardy. Before the trial began, Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai, begged external political forces to interfere in the case; during the trial, Lai’s lawyers resorted to dirty tricks, making false accusations and circulating rumors. Their last-ditch attempt was to appeal to the United Nations over an allegation that a witness had been subjected to torture, a move that amounts to misusing the UN mechanism to interfere with the judicial process in an independent jurisdiction. Such a situation resembles that of a thief who, after committing a crime, plays cop to escape legal punishment!
Third, it is unacceptable to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by justifying Lai’s wrongdoing as resistance to the suppression of freedom of speech, which is a typical old-fashioned ill-functioning ploy.
The prosecution’s opening address, a few days ago, listed three charges under the NSL, including two counts of conspiracy to collude with external forces to endanger national security and one count of colluding with external forces to endanger national security. The SAR government has reiterated that law enforcement has nothing to do with freedom of speech and it must be strictly evidence-based, regardless of a suspect’s social and professional background. It is illogical to link a defendant’s professional background to the nature of the charges under the NSL. A defendant’s past career in the media industry cannot be used as an excuse to evade legal liability under the banner of the freedom of speech. How ridiculous it is to know that a defendant can use his media background to accuse the law enforcement of “suppressing freedom of speech”!
As any unbiased, sober-minded person can see, the Basic Law in Hong Kong has provided substantial protection for the civil right of freedom of speech. There are no restrictions on the media’s freedom to comment on and criticize the government’s administration as long as it abides by the law. In fact, the city’s media industry has been thriving for decades. There are as many as 200 local, mainland, and foreign media organizations. An increasing number of news media and professionals from outside the territory have converged on the SAR in recent years, indicating the robust and healthy state of freedom of speech in the city.
It should also be noted that freedom of speech and of the press is never absolute but has its limits. This is clear and explicit in the provisions of the relevant international conventions and in the legal practice of countries around the world. The Supreme Court of the United States has also made it clear that one is deprived of the freedom of speech if it “advocates the use of violence or unlawful conduct that intended to incite or cause imminent unlawful conduct” or is “likely to cause such conduct”. Those US and other Western politicians and the media practitioners are not unaware of this, are they?
The so-called suppression of freedom of speech does not exist in Hong Kong. The Western media should pay more attention to attacks on freedom of speech in their own countries, with examples such as Julian Assange, who is confined to prison in the UK for revealing the truth, and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who had to flee the US to avoid prosecution. According to statistics from US Press Freedom Tracker, between 2020 and 2023, some 1,600 cases of suppressing freedom of speech, including arresting media practitioners, raids and confiscation of media equipment, and the use of court subpoenas to silence journalists, were recorded in the US. Foreign politicians and media players are strongly advised to protect freedom of speech at home before blaming others!
Western mainstream media’s credibility is now in jeopardy as more right-thinking people are able to see through their propaganda tactics of misinformation and disinformation. Likewise, local communities in Hong Kong are aware of the kind of person that Lai is.
Lai will receive a trial that is fair and complies with international standards of criminal justice. Western politicians and media outlets should cease their farcical efforts to derail Lai’s trial!
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS