David Cameron urged to stand up to China and demand release of jailed Brit

The son of a British media tycoon who has spent three years awaiting trial in a Hong Kong jail will today urge David Cameron to stand up to China and demand his release. Jimmy Lai, 76, founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, was arrested in 2020. His case has become emblematic of the region’s bitter crackdown on press freedom.

The businessman’s trial on charges including sedition and collusion with foreign agents is due to begin next Monday. His son Sebastien will meet with the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday evening – the first time he has been granted an audience with a British foreign secretary.

Sebastien said he hoped this would lead to the UK calling for Mr Lai’s release, as the UN, US and European Parliament have already done.

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He told reporters in London on Monday: “He is someone who sacrificed everything he had to stand up for these freedoms. Calling for my father’s release is the first step… it is uncontroversial, in my opinion.”

Sebastien was on a business trip abroad when his father was arrested and has not been able to see him or return to Hong Kong since.

He said Mr Lai, who turned 76 on Friday, had essentially spent three years in solitary confinement, raising concerns about his health.

Sebastien was optimistic that a stronger intervention by the Foreign Secretary “would be very helpful”.

In October, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was released following three years of detention in China, after the Australian government campaigned and urged China to follow “basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment”.

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Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, a member of Sebastien’s international legal team, said Hong Kong’s attempts to silence and intimidate Jimmy’s supporters were unlike anything she had seen in 20 years of handling such cases, including those of prisoners in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

She added: “The stakes couldn’t be higher. We are facing the prospect of a UK national potentially dying behind bars for his journalism and his pro-democracy work.

“And on a personal level, Sebastien is facing the prospect of never seeing his father again. He can’t even do what people can do in any other country when someone is in prison – visit his father.”

The charges against Mr Lai relate to a draconian national security law which has been used by China to target journalists.

Daily Express editor Gary Jones was among 116 global news leaders who signed a letter calling for Mr Lai’s release and expressing support for his battle for media freedom.

Fiona O’Brien, UK bureau director at Reporters Without Borders, said Hong Kong had seen the sharpest decline since the organisation launched its World Press Freedom Index two decades ago – falling from 18th position to 140th.

She added: “The national security law is essentially a piece of legislation that gives China a licence to harass any journalists it doesn’t much like with the veneer of legality.

“We’ve seen that play out over the past few years. China has used the national security law and laws to prosecute at least 28 journalists in Hong Kong. As we sit here today, at least 12 of those – including Jimmy Lai – are in prison.”

An FCDO spokesperson said: “British national Jimmy Lai’s case is a priority for HMG which has been raised on multiple occasions with the Chinese Government, most recently when the Foreign Secretary spoke to Wang Yi last week.

“Mr Lai’s prosecution has been highly politicised – he and others are being deliberately targeted to silence criticism under the guise of national security.”

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