HONG KONG — Hong Kong judges on Friday proposed a new delay until December in the trial of a prominent activist publisher who was arrested in August 2020 under a sweeping Beijing-imposed national security law.
Jimmy Lai, the 75-year-old founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, faces up to life in prison if convicted under the law. He has already been sentenced to five years and nine months in a separate case.
His trial, originally scheduled to begin last December, had already been delayed by judges until September while the Hong Kong government appealed to Beijing to block his attempt to hire a British defense lawyer.
His arrest under the security law was part of Beijing's unprecedented crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy camp. More than 260 people have been arrested under the law, including many prominent pro-democracy leaders.
In a hearing Friday, Judge Esther Toh suggested that Dec. 18 would be a better time to start the trial because lawyers and one of her colleagues were handling another case. She said rescheduling would allow them to finish their work in that case first.
The prosecution voiced no objection. Lai's lawyer, Steven Kwan, said he would need to discuss the proposed timeline with a key member of his team.
Lai is accused of conspiring with others to call for international sanctions or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. He also faces a charge of collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security, and a separate sedition charge under a colonial-era law that is also increasingly used to subdue the opposition.
Beijing hasn't directly ruled on whether foreign lawyers who do not normally practice in Hong Kong can handle national security cases. It said the power to decide belongs to the city’s leader and the committee for safeguarding national security.
The committee later concluded that allowing Lai's choice, Timothy Owen, to represent him would likely pose national security risks and advised the director of immigration to refuse any work visa applications by Owen that involve representing Lai in the case.