Hong Kong tycoon’s lawyers appeal to UN over witness torture accusation

GENEVA (Reuters) -Lawyers for Hong Kong pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai said on Thursday they had appealed to the United Nations expert on torture over the treatment of a witness they believe was tortured before giving incriminating evidence.

Lai, 76, founder of now-shuttered pro-democracy paper Apple Daily and a leading critic of the Chinese Communist Party, faces two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces under a national security law China imposed in 2020.

He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

“The appeal expresses grave concerns over the treatment of a key prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of Jimmy Lai, Andy Li (Li Yu-Hin), and its implications for Mr Lai’s trial,” Lai’s legal team from Doughty Street International said.

“Credible evidence is emerging that Andy Li was tortured when in prison in China before confessing to allegedly conspiring with Jimmy Lai to collude with foreign entities to endanger national security,” their statement added.

There was no immediate comment from Alice Jill Edwards, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Replying on Friday to a request for comment, a Hong Kong government spokesman said it “strongly condemns and firmly opposes” the initiative by Lai’s legal team, which it said was designed “to abuse the United Nations mechanisms to interfere with the judicial proceedings”.

Prosecutors have accused Lai of conspiring with pro-democracy activist Li, who was among a group of 12 people intercepted by mainland authorities in August 2020 on a boat believed to be en route to Taiwan.

Li is due to be sentenced for violating the national security law after Lai’s trial concludes.

The United States and Britain have called for Lai’s immediate release, saying his trial is politically motivated.

Hong Kong authorities dispute claims that Lai cannot enjoy a fair trial, saying all are equal before the law and that the national security law has brought stability to Hong Kong after mass protests in 2019.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-FarberEditing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)