Rishi Sunak’s government confirmed that UK minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan met with Mr Lai’s lawyers on Tuesday, calling it “the right approach” for the case.
Mr Sunak’s office confirmed that “the foreign office is providing support, or has provided support, to Jimmy Lai for some time. We’ve been clear that the Hong Kong authorities must end their targeting of pro-democracy voices, including Jimmy Lai”.
Hong Kong’s government has said that it “opposes and condemns” acts by the jailed media tycoon’s legal team and the British government, “which attempted to undermine the rule of law of Hong Kong and interfere with the independent exercise of judicial power”.
“We will never tolerate, and strongly deplore, any form of interference by any foreign power or individual with the judicial proceedings and internal affairs” of Hong Kong, officials said.
Regina Ip, the convenor of Hong Kong’s Cabinet, said Mr Lai’s lawyers were “really stupid” to ask Mr Sunak’s administration to intervene. “Really stupid of Jimmy Lai’s lawyers to ask Sunak’s government to intervene in Hong Kong’s criminal proceedings against Lai. This is blatant interference in our judicial process,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Inconceivable that lawyers supposedly wedded to the rule of law would ask for executive interference,” Ms Ip added.
“Their outrageous move vindicates Beijing’s decision to ask Hong Kong’s chief executive to bar foreign lawyers from national security cases,” she added.
In December, China’s top lawmaking body gave Hong Kong leader John Lee the power to bar foreign lawyers from national security trials, removing the decision from the city’s courts.
Mr Lai, 75, the founder of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, is facing up to life in prison for “colluding with foreign forces” and trial, which was earlier scheduled for December last year, and was pushed to September after Hong Kong authorities asked Beijing to step in and bar Mr Lai from being represented by senior British lawyer Tim Owen.