Hong Kong government: 10 bishops' appeal for Jimmy Lai is 'Contempt of Court'
A group of prelates from every continent including Cardinals Dolan of New York and India's Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal had called for the immediate release of the Catholic businessman and pro-democracy activist who has been in jail for more than a thousand days. The harsh reply: 'Distorted words aimed at interfering in Hong Kong's internal affairs'. He faces life imprisonment under the controversial National Security Act on 18 December.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Hong Kong government has harshly rejected a petition with which ten Catholic bishops from all continents this week had asked the government of the special administrative region of Hong Kong to release the well-known pro-pro-activist democracy - and Catholic - Jimmy Lai, who at 75 has been in prison for over 1000 days.
Lai was arrested in August 2020 thanks to the controversial "national security law", which drastically limits freedom of speech in an attempt to suppress the pro-democracy movement. Among the harshest sanctions provided by law there is also life imprisonment for what the government considers sedition, terrorism, but also damage to public transport vehicles.
Lai himself was accused of collusion with foreign organizations and conspiracy to commit fraud. Meanwhile, the Apple Daily newspaper, which he founded, was forced to cease publication in 2021.
The petition of the 10 Catholic bishops - Card. Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York (United States), Card. Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum (India), Msgr. Timothy P. Broglio, military ordinary of the United States, Msgr. Anthony Fisher, archbishop of Sydney (Australia), Msgr. Gintaras Grušas, archbishop of Vilnius (Lithuania), Msgr. J. Michael Miller, archbishop of Vancouver (Canada), Msgr. John Wilson, archbishop of Southwark (United Kingdom), Msgr. Robert E. Barron, bishop of Winona-Rochester (United States), Msgr. Alan A. McGuckian, bishop of Raphoe (Ireland) and Msgr. Lucius Ugorji, bishop of Umuahia (Nigeria) - asked "the government of the special administrative region of Hong Kong to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai, prosecuted - they write - for having supported democracy through his newspaper and various public interventions. There is no place for such cruelty and oppression in a territory that claims to uphold the rule of law and respect the right to freedom of expression."
Just in recent days, the lawyers of Doughty Street Chambers - an international organization that deals with the defense of human rights, recalled that - in the new trial which should open on 18 December - Lai "risks a potential life sentence for his peaceful campaign pro-democracy and his work at Apple Daily.”
The Hong Kong government on November 9 officially contested the bishops' appeal through the statements of a spokesperson: "We reject the distorted words regarding the facts, signed by foreign Catholic leaders, who intend to interfere in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and in the independent exercise of the judicial power of its courts". In a contemptuous manner, the note claims that the text even contains terms for "the crime of contempt of court".
Maintaining that Lai's right to defense has been fully guaranteed, the Hong Kong government states that it intends to continue "in accordance with the law, to effectively prevent, suppress and punish acts and activities that endanger national security and to safeguard the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the population of Hong Kong. The government - concludes the note - strongly urges foreign Catholic leaders to distinguish facts from falsehoods and to immediately stop interfering in internal affairs".