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HK legislator slams Catholic leaders’ plea for Jimmy Lai

Lee argued Catholic leaders' petition was 'undermining the rule of law' and asked them to quit such activities

Millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong before he was arrested under Beijing's new national security law

Millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong before he was arrested under Beijing's new national security law. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 17, 2023 11:16 AM GMT

Updated: November 17, 2023 11:27 AM GMT

A pro-Beijing lawmaker in Hong Kong has accused 10 Catholic leaders from eight nations of taking “a severe misstep” by signing a petition urging the “unconditional” release of Jimmy Lai and warned them to quit such actions.

Dominic Lee Tsz-king, a New People’s Party legislator in Hong Kong alleged that Catholic leaders abused their religious power for political ends in an opinion piece published in pro-Beijing China Daily on Nov. 15.

Two cardinals and eight bishops from around the world in a Nov. 1 petition condemned the Hong Kong administration for arresting and jailing Lai, who supported the 2019-220 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

“The Catholic leaders’ call for Lai’s release is a striking example of religious power being commandeered for political ends,” Lee said.

“The very fact that Lai is a Catholic seems to be their only justification for their demand,” Lee said.

Lee argued the Catholic leaders' petition was “undermining the rule of law” and asked them to quit such activities.

“The petition signed by the 10 foreign Catholic leaders is clearly intended to interfere with or obstruct justice, and it is very likely to constitute the crime of contempt of court or obstruction of justice,” Lee said.

“I advise those religious leaders to know when to quit, or else they will have a heavy price to pay,” Lee warned.

‘Cruelty and oppression’

Lee’s remarks came after the Church’s leaders’ petition asked the Hong Kong government to “immediately and unconditionally” release Lai who is accused of national security violations.

“Lai’s persecution for supporting pro-democracy causes through his newspaper and in other forums has gone on long enough,” the group said.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram in southern India, were among others who signed the petition.

The archbishops who signed the petition are Timothy P. Broglio of the US Military Services, Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius in Lithuania, J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, and John Wilson of Southwark in the United Kingdom.

Bishops Alan A. McGuckian of Raphoe, Ireland, and Lucius Ugorji of Umuahiain Nigeria are also signatories to the petition.

They said millionaire Jimmy Lai has lost his business, has “been cut off from his family, and has just surpassed 1,000 days in prison while facing the prospect of many more years of incarceration to come."

“He is 75 years old. He must be freed now,” the group added.

Lai, a Catholic and the founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was first arrested under the national security law on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” in early August 2020.

He was further accused of fraud related to a lease violation at the Apple Daily’s headquarters and was formally charged in December 2020.

He was found guilty of fraud last December and jailed for five years and nine months and his national security trial is now expected to begin on Dec. 18, 2023.

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