Jimmy Lai enters a plea of innocence for all accusations during his trial on national security charges in Hong Kong.

Media mogul and advocate for democracy stands accused of conspiring to engage in foreign collusion and publishing seditious material.

During his trial on Tuesday in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai pleaded not guilty to all charges. If found guilty, the media tycoon and pro-democracy activist could face a life sentence. The charges against him were filed under the 2021 national security law and a colonial-era sedition law.

In the defendant’s dock, surrounded by three prison guards, the 76-year-old, dressed in a white shirt and navy blue jacket, responded “not guilty” to each charge read out in English.

He is accused of conspiring to engage in foreign collusion and conspiring to publish seditious material. Lai’s legal team tried to have the latter charge dismissed, arguing that the alleged offenses happened outside the statute of limitations. However, the judges rejected this request. An expected plea of not guilty was delivered.

“This case is centered around a radical political figure… who conspired with others to incite hatred and opposition against the government of Hong Kong and the central authority, as well as colluding with foreign nations or external entities to endanger national security,” lead prosecutor Anthony Chau told the court on Tuesday.

Chau referred to Lai as “the mastermind” who utilized his media empire “as a platform to advocate for his political agenda… and orchestrated a conspiracy with the so-called democracy and freedom advocacy group, Stand with Hong Kong Fight for Freedom.”

The prosecution presented 161 editions of Apple Daily, published between April 2019 and the newspaper’s final day in June 2021, as “examples of seditious publications… with the intention to corrupt the minds of susceptible individuals.”

Lai was also accused of providing instructions and financial support to SWHK, aiming to lobby foreign countries, including the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Portugal, and Ireland, for imposing sanctions.

The trial, which began last month after considerable delays, follows Lai’s imprisonment since December 2020. He is currently serving a 13-month sentence for participating in an unauthorized assembly and an additional sentence of more than five years on fraud charges related to a lease contract violation. Supporters of Lai argue that these charges were politically motivated.

Lai and his Apple Daily newspaper played a significant role in supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which witnessed widespread protests throughout the city in 2019. In 2020, the national security law was enacted to suppress the movement, criminalizing acts of foreign collusion, sedition, secession, and terrorism. The law has garnered extensive criticism for its broad and ambiguous language, enabling authorities to employ it against peaceful dissent and political opposition.

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