HONG KONG (ChurchMilitant.com) - Hong Kong Catholic media magnate and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is facing life imprisonment for colluding with foreign forces under China's new national security law.
Police on Saturday formally charged 73-year-old Lai, citing his Twitter comments, live chats and his founding the English edition of the Apple Daily newspaper as violations of the security law.
Lai was arrested on Dec. 2 on separate fraud charges and jailed the next day as a national security risk.
China's accusations against Lai of "foreign collusion" includes his meetings with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and four others, a July 2019 meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his alleged attendance at a speech given by Vice President Mike Pence in Oct. 2019.
Police also flagged Lai's tweet tagging Donald Trump and asking the U.S. president to impose financial sanctions on mainland Chinese officials on May 27, a month before the national security law was enacted, Apple Daily reported.
"Jimmy Lai is a courageous and fine man, and I am proud to count him as a friend," Lord David Alton, member of Britain's House of Lords and distinguished human rights campaigner told Church Militant.
"During conversations with him, and with the saintly Cdl. Joseph Zen, I have been deeply impressed by the combination of a profound faith and a practical commitment to the freedom and liberties of the wonderful people of Hong Kong — and for whom he has a great love," remarked Alton, a member of two Roman Catholic orders of chivalry.
In comments to Church Militant, the lifelong peer from Liverpool emphasized: "Jimmy Lai is on the right side of history, standing in the tradition of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela."
"Taken to his prison cell in Hong Kong, chained and handcuffed, he has demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others. That should shake us all out of our indifference and silence," pleaded Alton, a 2016 winner of the St. Thomas More Religious Freedom Award.
Church Militant asked the eminent Catholic spokesperson for human rights if he would comment on Pope Francis' silence on Lai's detention.
Lord Alton responded:
In an editorial in today's Sunday Times there is righteous indignation — with which I agree — about the silence of so many who should be speaking out in his [Lai's] defense — including religious leaders who have become too close to the Chinese Communist Party. In a way that they fail to do, Jim Lai understands the nature of the Chinese Communist Party and its persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and the destruction of Hong Kong's freedoms.
The Sunday Times editorial issued a stinging rebuke accusing the world of being "shamefully silent on the plight of Hong Kong," noting that although Lai also held U.K. citizenship, the British government's response "apart from expressing 'deep concern' has been muted."
A Monday Wall Street Journal (WSJ) op-ed excoriated Pope Francis for his silence on Lai's arrest, commenting: "Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai goes to jail — and his shepherd is missing in action."
The WSJ noted that figures as diverse as Pompeo and Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky had been joined by British politicians like Labor Party's Sarah Champion and other members of Parliament who spoke up for Lai in Britain's House of Commons.
"But there is one place where China's bullying elicits only silence: the Vatican," the op-ed lamented. "Which is strange, because Jimmy Lai is not only Hong Kong's most well-known champion of democracy; he is also its most prominent Catholic layman."
"At a moment when he and his family most need their shepherd, Pope Francis is MIA [Missing in Action]," the WSJ opined, explaining that Francis was not a pope who remained aloof from worldly matters but "readily weighs in on outrages wherever he finds them, whether it be modern air conditioning, American capitalism or Catholic moms who breed 'like rabbits.'"
"Alas, Pope Francis not only chooses to see no evil in China, he won't hear of any, either," the op-ed remarked, narrating the pontiff's refusal to meet with Cdl. Zen in September, but finding time "to discuss justice and inequality with an NBA players union delegation, which presented him with a Black Lives Matter T-shirt."
Asking if the pope's silence was a consequence of the Vatican's 2018 secret deal with China and its renewal in 2020, the WSJ mocked Francis' passing reference to the persecution of Chinese Muslim Uighurs in Austin Ivereigh's new book-length interview with Pope Francis titled Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future.
"It is as tepid a criticism as it gets and may well be the only critical thing he has ever said about China. Even so, the Chinese Foreign Ministry apparently felt wounded enough that this single sentence required public repudiation at a press conference," the WSJ observed.
Lai, originally arrested in August but later released on bail, has become the highest-profile figure and the fourth Hong Kong citizen charged under the new security law imposed by China to crush dissent in Hong Kong.
The charge of collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Lai has not entered a plea and has been denied bail by Judge Victor So Wai-tak on the grounds that his foreign contacts might help him escape. The tycoon's next trial hearing has been scheduled for April 16.
Church Militant earlier reported how Lai, one of the biggest financial supporters of faithful Catholics who refused to join the communist, government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, donated over $20 million to the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cdl. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun from 2005 to 2011.