Catholic bishops call on Hong Kong government to release pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai

Catholic bishops call on Hong Kong government to release pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai

Jimmy Lai FXM interview Catholic bishops call on Hong Kong government to release pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai
Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai. / Napa Institute.

CNA Staff, Nov 8, 2023 / 18:07 pm (CNA).

Multiple Catholic leaders from around the world this week called upon the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to release prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and Catholic Jimmy Lai, who has been imprisoned there for nearly three years. 

Lai has been an outspoken democracy advocate in Hong Kong for years. He founded the tabloid Apple Daily in 1995 which took a strong pro-democracy stance in the administrative region. 

Lai was originally arrested in August of 2020 under that year’s controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government and sharply curtailed free speech in the region in an effort to quash what the Chinese Communist Party considered subversion and sedition in the separately administered region of Hong Kong.

The law’s harsh penalties include life in prison for what the government deems sedition or terrorism, including acts such as damaging public transport facilities. Lai himself was accused of colluding with foreign adversaries and conspiracy to defraud. 

Since then, the activist has been convicted of assembly violations and a fraud charge. In September, he marked his 1,000th day in prison in Hong Kong awaiting trial on further charges. The Apple Daily, meanwhile, ceased publication in 2021 after a government raid and multiple arrests of employees. 

In a petition this month signed by 10 Catholic bishops and archbishops, the prelates “call[ed] on the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai.” 

“Mr. Lai’s persecution for supporting pro-democracy causes through his newspaper and in other forums has gone on long enough,” the prelates wrote. 

“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,” they said. 

“In standing up for his beliefs and committing himself through his faith to challenge autocracy and repression, Jimmy Lai has lost his business, been cut off from his family, and has just surpassed 1,000 days in prison, while facing the prospect of many more years of incarceration to come.” 

“He is 75 years old,” the bishops said. “He must be freed now.”

In a separate press release, the barristers at the human-rights-focused Doughty Street Chambers said Lai “faces a potential life sentence for his peaceful pro-democracy campaigning and his work at Apple Daily.”

The barristers noted that the national security law “has been heavily criticized by many governments, international bodies and civil society organizations.”

Sebastien Lai, the son of Jimmy Jai, said in the press release that he was “grateful and honored to see Catholics and Catholic leaders from around the world speaking out on my father’s behalf, and calling out for his release from unjust imprisonment.”

“My father’s faith and belief in right and wrong are key to understanding why my father stood up for democracy for the people of Hong Kong, despite the obvious dangers to his life,” he said.

“Even now, imprisoned at 75 years old, his faith is what keeps him strong; it is something the Hong Kong authorities can’t take away from him, having taken away so much else.”

The full list of prelates who called for Lai’s release is as follows:

  • Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York (United States) 

  • Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major-Archbishop of Trivandrum (India)

  • The Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services-USA (United States) 

  • The Most Rev. Anthony Fisher. O.P., Archbishop of Sydney (Australia)

  • The Most Rev. Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius (Lithuania)

  • The Most Rev. J. Michael Miller, C.S.B, Archbishop of Vancouver (Canada)

  • The Most Rev. John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark (United Kingdom) 

  • The Most Rev. Robert E. Barron, Bishop of Winona-Rochester (United States)

  • The Most Rev. Alan A. McGuckian, S.J., Bishop of Raphoe (Ireland)

  • The Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia (Nigeria)