The Hong Kong government has vehemently dismissed a plea made by ten Catholic bishops from various parts of the world, including Cardinals Dolan of New York and Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India.
The bishops called for the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, a 75-year-old Catholic businessman and prominent pro-democracy activist, who has been incarcerated for over 1000 days under the controversial National Security Law.
Lai faces a trial that could result in life imprisonment, and it is set to commence on December 18.
Jimmy Lai was arrested in August 2020 under the far-reaching National Security Law, which has been widely criticized for curbing freedom of speech and suppressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
The law includes severe penalties such as life imprisonment for offenses deemed seditious or terrorist, as well as damage to public transport vehicles.
Lai, the founder of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, is accused of collusion with foreign organizations and conspiracy to commit fraud.
In response to the bishops’ appeal, the Hong Kong government released a statement on November 9, categorically rejecting what it called “distorted words” aimed at interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong.
The statement accused the bishops of committing “contempt of court” through their appeal.
The petition, signed by cardinals and bishops from various regions, urged the Hong Kong government to release Lai immediately and unconditionally.
The bishops emphasized that Lai had been prosecuted for supporting democracy through his media outlets and public interventions.
They decried the perceived cruelty and oppression in a territory that claims to uphold the rule of law and respect for freedom of expression.
The Hong Kong government countered the bishops’ appeal, asserting that Lai’s right to defense has been fully ensured and that it will continue, in accordance with the law, to prevent, suppress, and punish acts and activities endangering national security.
The government urged foreign Catholic leaders to distinguish facts from falsehoods and cease interference in internal affairs.