An international coalition of Christian leaders has written a letter to Hong Kong authorities calling for the release of Catholic civil rights advocate Jimmy Lai and other imprisoned activists, UCAnews reports. Lai is serving 20 months in jail for having taken part in an illicit Tiananmen Square massacre vigil on June 4th, 2020. He faces a life sentence. Authorities had banned the annual event for the first time in three decades, citing COVID restrictions that prohibited public assembly. Under Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, this is deemed as an act of “subversion.”
One of the appellants is Cardinal and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Charles Bo of Myanmar. Other Catholic and Protestant leaders from across Europe, North America, and Asia also signed the letter. They hope to secure Lai’s and his compatriots’ release as part of a Chinese New Year amnesty. The letter was handed over to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, also a practicing Catholic, on the 31st of January. It warned against the repercussions of persecuting Lai:
There is the very real prospect that Jimmy Lai may spend the rest of his years in prison. This would be a sad injustice and would raise unfortunate doubts as to China’s continued commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ model and the tolerance it engenders.
The Christian leaders asked the authorities to drop the charges against Lai. “We plead with you to have compassion on his life and well-being and to correct this injustice. We will continue to hope and pray for his eventual release as well as for the well-being and prosperity of Hong Kong and all the peoples of the whole Chinese nation,” the letter said.
Before his imprisonment, Lai (74) was a respected entrepreneur and pro-democracy advocate. Among his achievements is the founding of Giordano, an Asian clothing retailer, Next Digital (formerly Next Media), a Hong Kong-listed media company, and the popular, made defunct, newspaper Apple Daily.
His newspaper was well-known for its outspoken defense of Hong Kong’s freedoms. In the years before its closure, the newspaper criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for constricting the rights of free speech and assembly not found on mainland China. The assets (€2.1 million in total) of three companies linked to Apple Daily were frozen by Hong Kong officials. Subsequently, five of its top editors and executives were arrested by police on suspicion of foreign collusion. Human rights organizations believe Lai’s arrest and the cessation of his paper was strictly politically motivated, part of a broader crackdown on dissenting voices as China’s Communist Party (CCP) tightens its control over the autonomous territory.
Capitalizing on the fact that Beijing is currently hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong has drawn attention to Lai’s plight and that of many others. Messages such as “Free Jimmy Lai and the Apple 7,” and “over 10,000 political prisoners in Hong Kong,” both underlined by Olympic rings and other apropos imagery, were beamed onto London’s Tower Bridge, the Chinese embassy in Washington, as well as NBC headquarters, Nike’s flagship store, and a Ralph Lauren store in New York.