Leading Hong Kong democrat’s son says trial outcome pre-determined

TAIPEI (Reuters) – The son of leading China critic and Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai said on Friday he thought the outcome of his father’s trial next week had already been decided but he was proud of him for standing up for his beliefs.

Lai’s long-awaited trial under national security legislation imposed by China in 2020 opens in Hong Kong on Monday. He faces possible life imprisonment on charges he colluded with foreign forces, including the United States.

Lai, 76, the founder of now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and one of the most prominent Hong Kong critics of China’s Communist Party leadership, has faced a salvo of litigation since a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.

He is already serving a 5-year, 9-month jail term for a fraud conviction over a lease dispute for his newspaper. Lai has pleaded not guilty to all charges he faces in his new trial.

Sebastien Lai, one of his sons, told Reuters in Taiwan’s capital Taipei that the trial, with three government-appointed judges and no jury, was a sham.

“There’s actually no anxiety involved once you think about it because it’s a complete show trial. The result is already pre-determined,” said Lai, who lives in Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities say the city’s rule of law is robust and all are treated equally before it. Both Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the security legislation was needed to restore stability to the former British colony.

Sebastien Lai said it was his understanding his father was “doing OK”.

“He’s 76-years-old and has been in solitary confinement for the last three years, so I can’t imagine what that does to a person physically and mentally,” he added.

Sebastien, who has not seen his father in three years, said he missed simple things like family dinners.

“I always go back and forth – would I rather my father was with me instead of standing up for the freedom of others? And my conclusion is I’m tremendously inspired by him and I’m very proud he’s my dad.”

(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 7)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Angie Teo; Additional reporting by James Pomfret in Hong Kong, Editing by Angus MacSwan)