Concerns over use of ‘transparently false’ torture testimony in Jimmy Lai trial

Jailed pro-democracy activist Andy Li who has been allegedly tortured took stand to testify against Jimmy Lai

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 13 March 2024 12:43 GMT

Politicians and senior lawyers have raised concerns over the use of testimony of a jailed pro-democracy activist against Jimmy Lai amid allegations that it may have been obtained under torture during his detention in mainland China.

Andy Li, one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists arrested by China in 2020, took the witness stand on Wednesday to testify for the prosecution.

Mr Lai, a 76-year-old UK citizen and founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, is facing the prospect of life in prison if found guilty of sedition and charges of colluding with foreign forces under the draconian national security law.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Wednesday, Mr Li told the court that Mr Lai allegedly assisted an opposition group by fronting the expenses for an advertising campaign aimed at garnering international support for the anti-government protests in the city five years ago.

Without specifying Mr Lai’s role, he named two private companies which Mr Lai used to settle payments to foreign newspaper outlets in 2019.

Mr Li, a 33-year-old programmer, has pleaded guilty under the national security law for his involvement in the democracy movement. A year-long Washington Post investigation found that Mr Li was mistreated while in Chinese custody, prompting the UN special rapporteur to urge China to not use Mr Li’s testimony.

On Wednesday, Miriam Lexmann, a member of the European parliament said Mr Li has been “tortured and will be forced to testify in the political show trial of Jimmy Lai”.

Pro-democracy media tycoon Lai (R) is escorted into a correctional services van outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in 2021
Pro-democracy media tycoon Lai (R) is escorted into a correctional services van outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in 2021 (AFP via Getty)

“It shows the long way the totalitarian regime in Beijing and its stooges are prepared to go to destroy any peaceful democratic opposition to their oppression,” she said.

A human rights campaigner, Luke de Pulford, one of the alleged co-conspirators in the case, said Hong Kong authorities are using Mr Li to connect Mr Lai to work he was not involved in. “This is ludicrous – transparently false,” he said.

It comes after UN special rapporteur on torture, Alice Jill Edwards, raised the allegations of Mr Li’s torture with China and expressed doubts over what could be a coerced testimony as the trial commenced in January.

“I am deeply concerned that evidence that is expected to be presented against Jimmy Lai imminently, may have been obtained as a result of torture or other unlawful treatment,” said Ms Edwards. “An investigation into these allegations must be conducted immediately, before any evidence is admitted into these present proceedings.”

Pro-democracy media tycoon Lai poses during an interview
Pro-democracy media tycoon Lai poses during an interview (AFP via Getty)

Mr Li told court that he was part of the discussions about running newspaper ads ahead of the 2019 G20 summit in Japan to “raise international awareness” of the “democratic movement” in Hong Kong that year.

“The group was very supportive of the idea of taking the momentum to the world stage, including those very eye-catching scenes during the protests,” he said.

The court heard the activist managed to source HK$6.73m ( £672,327) on two crowdfunding platforms and he used the alias Tony Lo.

Those adverts were published in 13 countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan and South Korea by him and other anonymous people.

Mr Lai’s closely monitored trial at the West Kowloon Court is expected to last nearly 80 days and well into March. The proceedings have been condemned by both the UK and the US as an “attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of [Mr Lai’s] rights to freedom of expression and association”.

Experts from the UN have called on China to drop all charges against Mr Lai and release him immediately.

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