Media mogul and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai pleaded not guilty to three charges of sedition and collusion with foreign countries on Tuesday.
Lai, 76, a known opponent of the Chinese Communist Party, was sentenced to 69 months in prison last month on two counts of fraud related to leases for the offices of his now-defunct newspaper, Apple Daily.
Lai was initially charged with fraud in December 2019 for allegedly violating the lease terms for office space before he was slapped with additional charges days later under the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing, on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security.
The court began hearing opening statements from the prosecution on Tuesday in what is expected to be an 80-day trial without a jury.
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Prosecutor Anthony Chau in his opening statements described Lai as a “radical political figure” and the “mastermind” behind a conspiracy. Chau also said that Lai had used his media platform to advance his political agenda.
The prosecution also played clips of Lai’s speeches and of interviews between Lai and foreign media outlets from 2019 and 2020 that show Lai calling on support from foreign governments, including then-U.S. President Donald Trump, to impose “draconian” measures on China and Chinese officials in retaliation for imposing the national security law and restricting the freedoms of Hong Kong.
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Lai is among a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent years as authorities step up their crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
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Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to China’s rule in 1997 under a promise the city would retain its Western-style civil liberties for 50 years.
Fox News’ Timothy H.J. Nerozzi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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