Lawyers for jailed Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai ask Rishi Sunak for urgent meeting

Lawyers for the Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai has have requested an an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of his trial on national security charges.

The 75-year-old founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily potentially faces a life term in one of the most high-profile cases by Hong Kong authorities as part of a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement.

The PM's spokesman said: "We've been clear that the Hong Kong authorities must end their targeting of pro-democracy voices, including Jimmy Lai.

"The Foreign Office has provided support to Jimmy Lai for some time, and minister for Asia Anne-Marie Trevelyan has met his legal team today. We think that's the right approach at this stage."

Lai’s international legal team wrote to the British prime minister ahead of his trial on national security charges on allegations of colluding with foreign forces.

Lai’s legal team has urged Mr Sunak for a meeting to discuss “potential ways to secure Mr Lai’s release”, according to BBC. His lawyers described the case against Lai as “deeply concerning” and “emblematic”.

Lai, a dual Hong Kong and British citizen, was arrested in December 2020 after Beijing imposed the contentious national security law following the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

He is is facing charges under Hong Kong’s colonial sedition law, as well as three other charges related to foreign collusion under the national security law.

His supporters have said all charges against him are politically motivated. The Apple Daily newspaper, which was seen as the only opposition voice in the media in Hong Kong, was raided and its operations shut down.

Lai’s UK-based legal time has previously requested two such meetings with two consecutive foreign ministers which were rejected and unanswered respectively.

The UK government, however, agreed for a meeting of the legal team with a foreign office minister, according to the letter.

Lai was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison over fraud charges for violating a lease contract in December 2022, shortly before his court appearance.

Observers of China have accused Beijing of trying to crush dissent and press freedom in Hong Kong using the national security law, under which alleged crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.