Hong Kong court delays trial of pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai

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Jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s trial under Hong Kong’s national security law was delayed Thursday as the government asked Beijing to bar Lai from being represented by a British lawyer.

Lai and several executives from the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper are being prosecuted for “colluding with foreign forces,” an offence under the law imposed on the city after huge and sometimes violent protests in 2019.

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After local courts said London-based lawyer Tim Owen could represent Lai, Hong Kong’s leader asked China’s top lawmaking body to decide whether overseas lawyers could participate in national security cases.

The trial was set to start Thursday but was adjourned to December 13 for prosecutors to come up with a new timetable, pending any move from Beijing.

Defense lawyers also revealed that Hong Kong immigration authorities had “withheld the extension” of Owen’s current work visa without disclosing a reason.

Owen had already been granted a visa as he was working on another Hong Kong case, the defense said, but did not specify when the visa will expire.

AFP has contacted the Immigration Department for comment.

Lawyers from common law jurisdictions are able to work within Hong Kong’s legal system, particularly in cases where their specific expertise may be required.

Owen is a king’s counsel – a senior trial lawyer in Britain – and has previously worked on high-profile criminal cases in the financial hub.

The government earlier argued in court that letting overseas lawyers work on national security cases posed a risk, as there was no way to ensure the confidentiality of state secrets.

When the Court of Final Appeal sided against the government on Monday, city leader Lee said he would ask Beijing to intervene by issuing an “interpretation” of the national security law.

This was the first time Hong Kong invoked the mechanism under the law that allows Beijing to have the final say on how it operates.

Lai, 74, is one of Hong Kong’s best-known pro-democracy activists. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

He is already in jail for taking part in an illegal protest.

For years, his Apple Daily tabloid newspaper was scathing in its criticism of China’s Communist Party and openly supportive of democracy.

It collapsed last year after its funds were frozen under the security law and many of its senior staff were charged alongside Lai, primarily for their campaigning for international sanctions against China.

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