UN Special Rapporteur on Torture warns against admission of evidence, allegedly secured through torture, in Jimmy Lai case

Today the United Nations has announced that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, has written to authorities in China to address claims that the evidence of a listed key prosecution witness in the trial of newspaper owner and editor Jimmy Lai had been obtained through torture. This announcement follows an urgent appeal filed by the international legal team with the Special Rapporteur earlier this month.


Jimmy Lai is currently on trial in Hong Kong under the controversial National Security Law (NSL) and colonial era sedition laws. He is a British citizen, and he has been imprisoned for over three years, since 2020. He was initially arrested and the offices of the newspaper he owned, Apple Daily, searched by police in August 2020. Although initially released on bail, he has been continuously in prison since December 2020. Mr Lai is a high-profile supporter of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, a writer, publisher, and owner of Apple Daily, once Hong Kong’s most popular independent Chinese language newspaper. His current trial commenced on 18th December 2023 and is likely to take several months. 

Urgent Appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

The urgent appeal filed by the international legal team with the UN on 4th January 2024 raised grave concerns over the treatment of a key prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of Jimmy Lai, Andy Li (Li Yu-Hin), and its implications for Mr Lai’s trial. It followed the Washington Post‘s publication in December 2023 of the findings of a year-long report which concluded that Andy Li and others were mistreated whilst in Chinese custody, and contained allegations that multiple sources said “screaming could “consistently” be heard” from Andy Li’s cell in the detention centre. Since returning from prison in mainland China, Andy Li has reportedly been held in a secure psychiatric facility in Hong Kong, not in the general prison population. The urgent appeal stated that credible evidence is emerging that Andy Li was tortured when in prison in China before confessing to allegedly conspiring with Jimmy Lai to collude with foreign entities to endanger national security. Andy Li’s evidence against Jimmy Lai – which it is suspected was coerced and obtained after he endured torture, inhuman and degrading treatment in Chinese detention, with the knowledge of the Hong Kong authorities – is central to the Prosecution’s case. 

Today’s Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur

Today’s statement by the UN Special Rapporteur comes within three weeks of the filing of the urgent appeal. Dr. Edwards stated, “I am deeply concerned that evidence that is expected to be presented against Jimmy Lai imminently, may have been obtained as a result of torture or other unlawful treatment”, said Alice Jill Edwards. “An investigation into these allegations must be conducted immediately, before any evidence is admitted into these present proceedings.” The UN announcement continued:

“Article 15 of the Convention against Torture – which China has ratified – notes that ‘any statement made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except in proceedings against an alleged torturer.’

It is alleged that a key prosecution witness was subjected to torture during his detention in the Shenzhen prison in mainland China in 2020-2021. The use of torture and other coercive techniques, including use of fixed restraint chairs (tiger chairs), to force confessions have been well-documented in mainland China, Edwards said. “The absolute prohibition of reliance on evidence obtained as a result of torture or other ill-treatment in any proceedings is a fundamental protection,” she said. “I have urged the Chinese government to undertake an investigation into these claims. I also reminded China of its duty to investigate all allegations of torture, prosecute or extradite suspects, punish those responsible and provide remedies to the victims.””

On behalf of the international legal team, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC responded to today’s UN announcement. She stated:

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, which cannot be overridden by any other consideration or in any circumstances. That is also why international law prohibits reliance on evidence derived through torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. 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.

“Regrettably there is credible evidence that a key prosecution witness in Jimmy Lai's trial was subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that his testimony has been coerced. The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have so far failed to investigate these concerns. Today the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has publicly reminded China of their international legal obligations. We thank the UN Special Rapporteur for addressing this exceptionally urgent matter so speedily. We also thank the Washington Post reporter who brought this deeply concerning issue to public attention.” 

Dr. Edwards’ statement today follows an urgent call last week by four UN experts that all charges against Jimmy Lai be dropped and he be immediately released.


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