The British son of a jailed Hong Kong media tycoon has denounced the “hypocrisy” of the UK government.
Sebastien Lai said Britain had failed to sufficiently condemn the ongoing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
He pointed out that it had not called for the release of his father Jimmy – also a UK citizen – and continues to trade with China.
Last year Jimmy Lai was jailed almost six years for fraud. He also faces national security charges.
The 75-year old tycoon, who founded the pro-democracy Apple Daily paper, is among the most prominent of the so-called Hong Kong 47 pro-democracy activists currently on trial for subversion. He may spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government passed laws preventing foreign lawyers from defending clients in national security cases, after Jimmy Lai had hired prominent King’s Counsel Tim Owen.
Speaking on the same day at a Washington event about the human rights situation in Hong Kong, Sebastien Lai called the UK government “incredibly weak”. He further slammed the Vatican for not standing up for his father, who is a Catholic, and claimed the United States has been “a lot stronger” on these issues.
“It’s very sad to see a democratic government being afraid – or asking permission even – to speak on behalf of one of its citizens that is in prison for freedom of speech,” said Sebastien Lai.
In 2020, then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the charges against Jimmy Lai showed Hong Kong authorities’ “continued attacks on the rights and freedoms of its people”.
His successors James Cleverly and Liz Truss have also said that freedoms in the territory have been “eroded” since Beijing enacted a controversial national security law , which criminalises subversion, among other offences.
This week, Hong Kong saw the first visit by a a senior British official in five years, as Minister for Investment Dominic Johnson held meetings with government officials and executives.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said in January that a junior foreign office minister met Jimmy Lai’s legal team, which had requested a meeting with the PM.
He added that the Foreign Commonwealth Office had been providing support for him.