The son of jailed Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner and publisher Jimmy Lai says his father “refuses to be cowed” by Chinese authorities as he marks 1,000 days behind bars and faces the threat of life imprisonment.
In an interview with NBC News in London, Sebastien Lai said his father, a wealthy businessman with British citizenship, could have easily fled Hong Kong to avoid a crackdown on pro-democracy activists but chose to stay to fight for his beliefs.
“For someone to give up everything he has to stand up for freedom is an incredibly rare thing,” said the younger Lai who lives in Taiwan. “I think a lot of people understand what’s at stake and understand that my father should not be in prison.”
Held in solitary confinement at Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison, Jimmy Lai, 75, is serving a sentence of more than five years in connection with an alleged commercial lease violation, which his lawyers and rights groups dismiss as spurious. He was previously prosecuted over his participation in mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020 and for lighting a candle at a 2020 vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Sebastien Lai, 28, said his father remains steadfast in his commitment to democratic principles despite facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted on charges under a new national security law. The trial in that case has been repeatedly delayed, and is now due to start in December.
“He’s someone who refuses to be cowed,” Sebastien Lai said.
“My dad is a person that has really shown with his work and with his life why these values are important and what someone is willing to pay for it. And I think that’s why the Chinese government is using so much energy to go after that. He’s always been a thorn in their side,” he said.
Jimmy Lai “has shown the Hong Kong government, the government of China, that money isn’t the most important thing, that these freedoms are much more important,” he added.
The imprisonment of his father in connection with an alleged lease violation, the forced closure of his father’s newspaper, Apple Daily, and the jailing of hundreds of other political prisoners send a clear message that despite the government’s claims, Hong Kong is not a place to do business, Sebastien Lai said.
Companies and foreign investors expect a free flow of information and a fair and predictable legal system, not an arbitrary and authoritarian one, he said.
“I think Hong Kong really has to figure out whether they want to be a financial center or not,” Sebastien Lai said. “If they keep people like my father and other political prisoners in jail, they can’t be a financial center.”
Jimmy Lai and others flocked to Hong Kong because of the freedom it offered and “built it into what it is today,” he said. “Once that rule of law goes , once the law becomes arbitrary and that protection is no longer granted, then Hong Kong loses its … competitive advantage,” he said.
“If it doesn’t recognize that the reason why it was so successful was because of all the freedoms that it had, then there’s no hope for Hong Kong,” Sebastien Lai added.
Source : NBC News