10 January 2024, The Tablet

Jimmy Lai’s trial alarms Catholic leaders

“Mr Lai is a person of faith who is being silenced and imprisoned for his pro-democracy convictions,” said Archbishop John Michael Miller.

Jimmy Lai’s trial alarms Catholic leaders

Security outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court in Hong Kong on the first day of Jimmy Lai’s national security trial on 18 December.
Associated Press / Alamy

Catholic bishops have voiced support for the former publisher and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai, whose national security trial in Hong Kong began on 18 December.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong who received Lai into the Church in 1997, attended the first day of the trial. Lai submitted a “not guilty” plea to charges of foreign collusion on 2 January.

The next day, Archbishop John Michael Miller of Vancouver said the trial was “greatly concerning to Vancouver Catholics, and in particular our Asian Catholic community”.

“Mr Lai is a person of faith who is being silenced and imprisoned for his pro-democracy convictions,” said the archbishop.

Archbishop Miller was one of 10 bishops to call for Lai’s release in early November, whose appeal was dismissed by Hong Kong legislators as “a striking example of religious power being commandeered for political ends”.

Hong Kong authorities arrested Lai in 2020 and his pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily closed the following June after a raid on its offices, which saw six staff arrested and its assets frozen under the draconian National Security Law.

The 76-year-old Lai, who is a UK citizen, has been in prison since his arrest and could face a life sentence if convicted.  Prosecutors claim he is a political “radical political figure” and the “mastermind” of the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, and that he published “seditious” writing in Apple Daily.

Prosecution evidence for “collusion” uses Lai’s correspondence with foreign politicians and campaigners, including a text message to Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, seeking to contact Lord Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, for an interview.

On 5 January, the defence lawyers appealed to the United Nations regarding the treatment of a prosecution witness they believe was tortured before giving incriminating evidence.

The Hong Kong and Chinese authorities dispute claims that Lai cannot receive a fair trial, insisting that the National Security Law has brought stability to Hong Kong since 2019.

The Chinese authorities arrested a bishop on the mainland on 2 January after he criticised the actions of a government-appointed administrator of his diocese.

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin has headed the Diocese of Wenzhou since 2016, but is not recognised by Beijing as he refuses to join the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association, which appointed Fr Ma Xianshi to govern in his stead.

Bishop Shao has often been detained in the past to prevent him from leading major liturgies, but he was unexpectedly arrested in the New Year after writing to Fr Ma warning him that he need episcopal sanction for many of the changes he had made in the diocese.

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