Abuse of National Security Law in Jimmy Lai’s ongoing trial in Hong Kong raised at UN Human Rights Council

The UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, Professor Ben Saul, today addressed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and has reiterated his concern about the prosecution of Jimmy Lai. 

Mr Lai is currently on trial under Hong Kong’s controversial National Security Law. In response to UN complaints filed by Mr Lai’s international legal team, UN experts – including Professor Saul – have called for his release on the grounds his prosecution is “directly related to his criticism of the Chinese Government and his support for democracy in Hong Kong SAR.” 

The Special Rapporteur, Professor Saul, referred to the UN communication to China about Mr Lai’s case, and raised his concern about the legality of the National Security Law and its impact on internationally protected rights.

Jennifer Robinson, a member of Mr Lai’s international legal team, today addressed the Council about Mr Lai’s case, stating:

“In recent years, Hong Kong has abused criminal laws to target and imprison pro-democracy campaigner and journalists. This has included the abuse of the draconian National Security Law.

Broadly defined offences of “subversion” and “collusion with foreign forces” incur maximum penalties of life imprisonment. When the law was imposed by Beijing in 2020, UN experts warned that the law would lead to “arbitrary interpretation and enforcement” and would undermine human rights.

And they were right.

The NSL and sedition laws are being abused to imprison students for liking social media posts, to convict children’s book authors – and to prosecute journalists and pro-democracy campaigners. Among them is 76 year old Jimmy Lai, a renowned campaigner, writer and founder of the newspaper Apple Daily. 

Mr Lai is currently on trial under the NSL and sedition laws. Every day in the trial we see new, ludicrous allegations, which make clear that – in truth – Jimmy Lai is accused of conspiracy to commit journalism. He is also being accused of colluding with foreign forces for raising concern about human rights abuse with international organisations and foreign parliamentarians.

These are not crimes. They are actions protected by international law. 

International PEN calls on China and Hong Kong to repeal the NSL and drop all charges against Mr Lai, and all those arbitrarily detained for their peaceful expression.”

She concluded her remarks by asking the Special Rapporteur about how his mandate will engage on Mr Lai’s case. The Special Rapporteur referred to the UN communication sent to China about Mr Lai’s case and reiterated his concerns about the use of the National Security Law to prosecute Mr Lai and others for exercising internationally protected rights.

This followed earlier interventions during this 55th session of the Human Rights Council, including the National Statement of the United Kingdom to the UNHRC during High-Level Week, where Lord Ahmad urged China and Hong Kong to release Jimmy Lai, as well as statements of concern by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and governments including the UK, US and Austria about the alleged use of evidence obtained by torture in Mr Lai’s trial.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who leads the international legal team, said:

”Jimmy Lai’s sham trial is ongoing in Hong Kong. This week, it takes another dark turn as evidence will be heard from Andy Li, despite grave concerns raised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture on Friday as to whether his testimony was procured through torture and coercion, in violation of international law.

Today another UN expert, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, has rightly expressed concern over both Jimmy Lai’s trial and Hong Kong’s new draft Article 23. 

UN experts are clear: Jimmy Lai must be freed, and Hong Kong’s further descent into authoritarianism must be stopped. The UK and other States must now take robust action.” 

Jimmy Lai and his son, Sebastien Lai, are represented by an international legal team, led by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and including Jonathan Price, Tatyana Eatwell, Jennifer Robinson and Sarah Dobbie.

Notes to editors:

  1. Ms Robinson made her written statement to the UNHRC with the support of International PEN. It is available here.

Jimmy Lai