Hong Kong, Dec 18 (EFE).- The long-awaited national security trial against Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai began Monday in the former British colony amid huge media attention and heavy security.
An imposing police presence marked the beginning of the trial, in which the prosecution accuses Lai, 76, of committing crimes against national security for which he could be sentenced to life in prison.
The founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily arrived at the West Kowloon magistrate’s complex at around 7.30 am local time (23:30 GMT Sunday) for a trial that is expected to last some months.
Upon his arrival, many people were queuing for public gallery seats, although minutes later practically only the police and the press remained outside.
Activists also gathered, including Alexandra Wong, who held the British flag with which she became known in the city during the 2019 protests.
Lai and three businesses under Apple Daily’s parent company face charges under the strict National Security Law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong, including colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiring with others to publish seditious publications.
This is the first criminal trial of this kind held in the semi-autonomous territory in a process that has generated great international criticism and is seen as a trial for press freedom and a test of judicial independence.
Having been in custody for nearly three years, Lai, a critic of Beijing, is currently serving five years and nine months in prison over separate fraud charges linked to lease violations.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Six former Apple Daily executives last year pleaded guilty to collusion charges, saying they conspired with Lai to call for sanctions or other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. Three of them are expected to testify against Lai.
The hearing, which has been postponed three times by the Hong Kong authorities, is expected to last 80 days and will be held without a jury.
Although the leaders of Beijing and the semi-autonomous region have claimed they will follow the rule of law and equal treatment before the law, Lai’s son, the editor Sebastien Lai, has denounced to the international community that the trial is a “sham.” EFE