David Cameron urges Hong Kong to free Jimmy Lai

The plea from the foreign secretary comes as the publisher faces trial under a national security law imposed by China.

David Cameron, the former prime minister and current UK foreign secretary, has called for the release of British citizen Jimmy Lai. Lai, a pro-democracy newspaper publisher, is facing a high-profile trial in Hong Kong that is seen as politically motivated. In a significant intervention, Cameron condemned the charges against Lai, who could potentially receive a life sentence if convicted under China’s national security law, which was enacted following the pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Lai is accused of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to publish seditious material. The trial is closely watched around the world due to concerns about Beijing’s growing influence over Hong Kong, which was a former British colony.

Cameron stated, “Hong Kong’s national security law is a clear violation of the Sino-British joint declaration. Its continued existence and usage is evidence of China’s breach of international commitments. It has significantly eroded the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong, silencing opposition voices through arrests made under the law. I am deeply concerned about anyone facing prosecution under this law, particularly British national Jimmy Lai, who is being politically targeted due to his prominence as a journalist and publisher. This is a blatant attempt to suppress his freedom of expression and association. I urge Chinese authorities to repeal the national security law and release all individuals charged under it. I also call on the Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution and release Jimmy Lai.”

The US State Department echoed Cameron’s sentiments and called for the immediate release of Jimmy Lai. A spokesperson stated, “Actions that limit press freedom and restrict the flow of information, as well as changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system by Beijing and local authorities, have undermined the city’s democratic institutions and harmed its reputation as an international business and financial hub.”

Cameron’s plea comes after Sebastien Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son, met with the foreign secretary last week. Sebastien expressed hope that the UK would add its voice to the calls for his father’s immediate and unconditional release. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Hong Kong’s now defunct Apple Daily newspaper, was arrested in 2020 during the crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement. His case has become a key issue, especially among Tory backbenchers advocating for a stronger stance against China by the UK government.

Since becoming foreign secretary, Cameron has acknowledged that China has become more aggressive and assertive in its “wolf warrior” diplomacy. This has raised questions about whether he would take a tough stance on Beijing, given the “golden era” of relations between China and the West during his premiership.

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