Jimmy Lai’s case raised at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

China and Hong Kong have attracted criticism and concern over the ongoing detention and prosecution of media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai at the 52nd session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Jennifer Robinson, members of the international legal team for Mr Jimmy Lai and for his son, Mr Sebastien Lai, addressed the Council session to raise concern about Mr Lai’s case in the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin. Both Ms Gallagher KC and Ms Robinson highlighted the abuse of national security and counter-terrorism laws to criminalise journalism. This UN engagement followed the earlier urgent appeals made to a group of UN experts in April 2022 and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in July 2022 on behalf of Mr Lai.

Speaking today, Mr Sebastian Lai, Mr Jimmy Lai’s son, said:

"My father chose to stay in Hong Kong. He chose to stand up for his principles and for freedom of expression and association in Hong Kong. For that, he has been subject to a litany of legal proceedings that have resulted in lengthy and disproportionate terms of imprisonment. He now faces trial on trumped up charges of sedition and endangering national security for his journalism, a trial that could condemn him to spend the rest of his life in prison. 

I call on the United Nations experts and the international community, all those who treasure fundamental rights and freedoms, to call out Hong Kong’s abuse of the law to persecute my father and his colleagues, and others for exercising their rights to free speech and a free press. The actions taken by the Hong Kong authorities sound the death knell for the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. It is time for the United Nations to condemn those actions, and do everything in its power to secure my father’s release, and restore hope to Hong Kong."

In her address to the UN Human Rights Council today, Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC said:

“In recent years, Hong Kong has used criminal laws, including sedition and the National Security Law, to target and imprison journalists, writers, lawyers, and peaceful pro-democracy campaigners.  The National Security Law (NSL) is breathtakingly broad: virtually anything could be deemed a threat to ‘national security’ under its provisions, and it can apply to anyone on the planet, even if they have never stepped foot in Hong Kong or China… Mr Lai has devoted decades to journalism, writing and supporting democratic values. ... Mr Lai has already been imprisoned for over two years for peaceful pro-democracy activities. He now faces life in prison under the NSL for his writings and for Apple Daily’s writings about the protection of democracy. ”

Ms Jennifer Robinson, addressing the Council, said:

“Mr Lai is a renowned media entrepreneur who founded Apple Daily, the popular pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, which was forced to close in 2021. Mr Lai has spent over two years in prison and now faces prosecution under the National Security Law and life in prison for Apple Daily’s work and for writing about the protection of democracy. We raise Mr Lai’s case because it is emblematic of a broader trend. Journalists working for newspapers including Apple Daily and The Stand News have faced unlawful detention and prosecution under national security and counter-terrorism laws. They are being criminalised for exercising their internationally protected right to freedom of expression.” 


During the session, a number of non-governmental organisations raised concern about Mr Lai’s case and called for the charges against him to be dropped.

The International Federation of Journalists said:

“The IFJ calls on Hong Kong to drop all charges against Mr Lai, and all journalists and media workers facing prosecution for their work because journalism is not a crime. We urge the Special Rapporteur and the Council to raise Mr Lai’s case, along with the cases of all journalists imprisoned under the National Security Law, and to make respect for press freedom central to engagement with Hong Kong and China.”

In the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Redress said:

“Redress urges the Special Rapporteur and the Council to raise Mr Lai’s case, and all cases of journalists, writers and human rights defenders imprisoned under the National Security Law, and encourage Hong Kong and China to hold to account the officials responsible for these violations.”

PEN International said:

“PEN International calls on Hong Kong’s administration to respect freedom of expression as enshrined in the nation’s constitution and allow all journalists to work without fear of arrest or reprisal. PEN International calls on Hong Kong to drop all charges against Mr Lai, and all journalists facing prosecution for their work.”

Article 19 also raised Mr Lai’s case in their intervention in the inter-active dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, saying:

“National security and counter-terrorism laws are being abused to restrict freedom of speech in Hong Kong where, for example, media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai faces life imprisonment for pro-democracy publications in his paper, Apple Daily.”

Today’s session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva followed the remarks by the UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly MP, in his opening address to the Council on 27th February 2023. Mr Cleverly MP said:

“Under the National Security Law, independent media outlets have been closed down. The right to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed in Hong Kong’s Basic Law has been eroded. Those who speak out, including journalists or businessmen like Jimmy Lai, have been arrested. We call on the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to uphold the Sino-British Joint Declaration and urge them to implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee Report.”

For further background, see here.

Mr Jimmy Lai and Mr Sebastian Lai are represented by an international legal team, including Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Jonathan Price, Tatyana Eatwell and Jennifer Robinson.