Jimmy Lai’s ongoing trial in Hong Kong and the use of evidence allegedly secured by torture raised at UN Human Rights Council 

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Alice Edwards, today addressed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to reiterate her concern about the admission of evidence allegedly obtained by torture in the ongoing trial of newspaper owner, writer and pro-democracy advocate, Jimmy Lai and called on Hong Kong and China to respond. This follows the urgent appeal filed by Mr Lai’s international legal team earlier this year with the Special Rapporteur, which resulted in a UN communication to China and Hong Kong.

Following concerns being raised by a number of UN members states about Mr Lai’s case, Dr Edwards called on Hong Kong and China to investigate the torture allegations and to provide a prompt reply to her UN complaint.

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 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.” 

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who leads the international team for Mr Lai, also addressed the UNHRC today, stating that she was raising “grave concerns regarding the use of evidence which appears to have been procured through torture in the prosecution of prominent pro-democracy campaigner and prisoner of conscience in Hong Kong SAR, 76-year-old Jimmy Lai.” She continued:

“Our urgent appeal cited a year-long investigation by The Washington Post, which found that a key prosecution witness, Andy Li, was tortured when imprisoned at Shenzhen Prison, in mainland China, before he turned prosecution witness against Jimmy Lai. Andy Li has been detained in a psychiatric facility since he was returned to Hong Kong SAR.

Despite this concerning publicly available information, based on credible evidence, neither China nor the Hong Kong SAR have taken steps to comply with their obligations to independently investigate the allegations.

The right to be free from torture is deemed to be so fundamental to a civilised society that it is recognised as an absolute right in international law. That is also why international law prohibits reliance on evidence derived through torture. Such statements are involuntary, inherently unreliable, violate the right to a fair trial, and reliance upon them indirectly legitimises torture and taints the justice system.

The admission of evidence procured through torture and coercion will constitute a flagrant denial of Jimmy Lai’s right to a fair trial. We call upon all States to condemn the use of torture evidence and to urge China to comply with its international obligations.”

Various governments also raised concern with China and Hong Kong about Mr Lai’s case. The United Kingdom told the Special Rapporteur, “we share the concerns outlined in your press release of Jan 2024 that some of the evidence that may be used to prosecute Jimmy Lai was allegedly obtained through torture of Andy Li. No evidence obtained by torture can be valid evidence.” The United States raised concern that “evidence being used to prosecute Hong Kong pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai was allegedly obtained by torture”. Austria said their government “is concerned about reports that evidence of a key witness in the case of Jimmy Lai may have been secured by torture and admitted into the proceedings. The reliance on evidence obtained through torture is absolutely prohibited under the Convention against Torture and such incidents must be investigated immediately.

This followed the National Statement of the United Kingdom to the UNHRC during High-Level Week, where Lord Ahmad said: “we urge the authorities to repeal the National Security Law, and release Jimmy Lai.” 

In a written statement to the Council today, Jennifer Robinson said:

“China has a shameful history of targeting writers, journalists, media owners and human rights defenders, and subjecting prisoners to torture or ill-treatment, despite China having ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 1988. Family members and colleagues are pressurised to “confess” to crimes and implicate loved ones and co-workers. The use of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and other coercive techniques, including the use of fixed restraint ‘tiger chairs’ have been well-documented.

The case of media owner and writer Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong is a chilling example of torture in mainland China tainting legal processes in Hong Kong, undermining the idea of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ It is alleged that a key prosecution witness against Jimmy Lai was subjected to torture during his detention in the Shenzhen prison in mainland China; was coerced to “confess” to collusion with Jimmy Lai; and the witness is now in a psychiatric facility in Hong Kong…[we call on] the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to comply with their obligations under international law, cease all use of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, and never rely upon evidence procured through torture in their trials.”

Jimmy Lai and 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 Gallagher KC made her statement to the UNHRC with the support of Redress. It is available here.
  2. Ms Robinson made her written statement to the UNHRC with the support of International PEN. It is available here.

Tatyana Eatwell, Jennifer Robinson and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC at the United Nations, Geneva on 8th March 2024