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Hong Kong Court Begins Day 2 Of Activist Publisher Jimmy Lai's Trial

Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 during a crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement following massive protests in 2019. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a national security law imposed by Beijing.

Hong Kong Court Begins Day 2 Of Activist Publisher Jimmy Lai's Trial
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The national security trial of Hong Kong's famous activist publisher Jimmy Lai entered its second day Tuesday, with judges expected to rule by the end of the week on his lawyers' bid to throw out a sedition charge that has been increasingly used to target dissidents. 

Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 during a crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement following massive protests in 2019. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a national security law imposed by Beijing. He was charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to put out seditious publications.

His landmark trial — tied to the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily that Lai founded — is widely seen as a trial for press freedom and a test for judicial independence in the former British colony, which was promised to have its Western-style civil liberties remain intact for 50 years after returning to Chinese rule in 1997.

After Lai walked into the courtroom Tuesday, he smiled and waved to his supporters just as he did the day before. He also subtly blew a kiss to the public gallery. A supporter chanted, “Hang in there!” 

Before opening statements, the judge heard arguments from both sides about whether the prosecution had passed the time limit in charging Lai for sedition. The law requires the prosecution of sedition charges to begin within six months after an alleged offense was committed. 

Robert Pang, one of Lai's lawyers, argued the prosecutors had laid the charge too late for the alleged conspiracy that ran between April 2019 and June 2021. But prosecutor Anthony Chau said the time limit should be set based on when the alleged conspiracy — involving at least 160 articles — actually ended. 

The judges, approved by the government to oversee the proceedings, said they would make a decision Friday. The trial is expected to last about 80 days without a jury. 

Lai's prosecution has drawn criticism from the United States and the United Kingdom. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated calls for Lai's release Monday. 

“We have deep concerns about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and that includes the rule of law,” he said. 

But Beijing has dismissed the criticism from Western governments. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Monday the U.S. and the U.K. made irresponsible remarks and that go against international law and the basic norms of international relations. 

Hong Kong leader John Lee said he was confident in the city's judicial system and in the professionalism of its courts. Lee said some people, particularly representatives of foreign governments, tried to exert pressure in an effort to influence the court presiding over Lai's case. He said such action violates the spirit of rule of law. 

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