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Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons / Chambre des communes
Sous-comité des droits internationaux de la personne du Comité permanent des affaires étrangères et du développement international

For immediate release


The Detention of Jimmy Lai and the Suppression of Media Freedom in Hong Kong

Ottawa, March 20, 2024 -

Jimmy Lai, a leading pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong and the founder of the highly popular, now-shuttered, newspaper Apple Daily, has been detained in Hong Kong since August 2020, in what is widely seen as an effort by the Hong Kong authorities to stifle dissent. At 76, he is currently on trial facing charges of sedition and treason, with the possibility of life imprisonment.

In light of his detention, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development held two meetings in February 2024 to examine Mr. Lai’s case, as well as the wider issue of media freedom in Hong Kong. Witnesses included Jimmy Lai’s legal team, his son Sebastien Lai, and human rights advocates. All witnesses stressed that the ongoing prosecution of Mr. Lai is not only baseless but is intended to provide a chilling effect on freedom of expression and media freedom in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai’s current trial is based on charges under the National Security Law – a law imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Hong Kong in 2020 and noted for its vague terms and extraterritorial reach. Witnesses highlighted that the trial is proceeding without a jury and under the watch of judges who are known for their pro-government stance and hand picked by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. Furthermore, there are serious concerns about the credibility of testimony from a key prosecution witness, Andy Li, who was reportedly tortured during his detention in mainland PRC.

The Subcommittee recognizes that Jimmy Lai’s trial reflects the stark decline in free speech and media rights in Hong Kong. Witnesses emphasized that Hong Kong, once a bastion of free speech, has dropped to 140th worldwide in the 2023 Reporters Without Borders ranking. In addition to arrests made under the National Security Law, recent restrictions on media freedom in the city have included the denial of visas to foreign journalists and the closure of most independent media outlets.

As Sebastian Lai pointed out, fear is “the cheapest weapon” of autocratic regimes. The Subcommittee heard compelling evidence that the fear fostered by Hong Kong authorities through Jimmy Lai’s trial not only encourages journalists to censor themselves, but also strongly discourages Hong Kong residents from engaging with foreign media.

Witnesses urged the Government of Canada to demand the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, to continue to closely monitor his trial, and to impose targeted sanctions against the individuals behind his persecution. They highlighted the need to monitor recently enacted national security legislation in Hong Kong and to assess its potential impact on civil liberties in the city, including its effects on Canadians and Canadian businesses in the region. They called upon the Government of Canada to continue engaging with the Canadian business community and consider issuing an advisory about the risks of doing business in Hong Kong. Moreover, they called on Canada to voice concerns over Jimmy Lai’s case and its broader implications at international forums, such as the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council session.

The members of the Subcommittee support the recommendations made by the witnesses, call for the release of Jimmy Lai, and express their solidarity with everyone advocating for freedom and justice in Hong Kong. As Jimmy Lai’s lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, told the Subcommittee, Jimmy Lai “stood up for truth and for his fellow Hong Kongers, and now we must stand up for him.”

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For more information, please contact:
Danielle Widmer, Clerk of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Tel: 613-992-9672