As Hong Kong’s official legal year began Monday, the city’s chief justice, Andrew Cheung, used the opportunity to stress how the judiciary takes its duty seriously.
The courts will not “blindly convict” anyone and will respect fundamental rights in national security cases, Cheung said at the official ceremony, adding that the justice system will also not bow to pressure.
“Threats of sanction or reprisal against judges for simply discharging their judicial duties are, therefore, repugnant to the rule of law and fundamentally objectionable,” said Cheung.
The chief justice’s comments come as U.N. experts have added their voices to those calling on Hong Kong to drop all charges against pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai.
Lai is one month into his trial on charges of sedition and collusion with foreign forces, under Hong Kong’s national security law. The 76-year-old publisher denies the charges, but if convicted could face life in prison.
In a statement released Monday, four United Nations experts called for Hong Kong to drop the case against Lai.
The British national, who founded the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, has been in custody since his arrest in 2020. His news outlet later shuttered after the arrests of senior executives and freezing of assets.
Prosecutors in the case have described Lai as a “radical” whom they say was at the center of conspiracies to collude with foreign forces and publish seditious material in Apple Daily.
The prosecutors alleged that Lai used “the guise of fighting for freedom and democracy” to request that foreign countries, including the U.S., impose sanctions and other hostile activities against Hong Kong and China.
Cited as evidence was a meeting between Lai and then-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington in July 2019.
The meeting included a discussion of an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial. After mass protests, the proposed extradition bill was withdrawn.
Prosecutors also cited 161 articles in Apple Daily as evidence of sedition and said Lai instructed Apple Daily to introduce English content to bolster support for Western governments sanctioning China and Hong Kong.
Lai denies all charges. (VOA)