Church leaders call for the immediate release of imprisoned Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai

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The former Primate of All Ireland and the Bishop of St Albans have joined an international coalition of Christian leaders petitioning Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to release imprisoned democracy activists as part of a Chinese New Year amnesty.

The Lord Eames – the former Archbishop of Armagh, and the Rt. Rev. Alan Smith, joined Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and other Protestant and Catholic leaders from across Asia, Europe and the US asking imprisoned publisher Jimmy Lai and other jailed activists be freed.

“There is the very real prospect that Jimmy Lai may spend the rest of his years in prison. This would be a sad injustice and would raise unfortunate doubts as to China’s continued commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ model and the tolerance it engenders,” the letter said.

The petition was presented to the government on 31 January by Fr. Franco Mella of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and the Rev. Fung Chi Wood, an Anglican priest and former Hong Kong legislator.

The founder of the now closed Apply Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai (74) could be jailed for life if found guilty of foreign collusion, sedition and fraud under Hong Kong’s new national security law.  Mr. Lai, a Roman Catholic, is currently serving a 20 month term of imprisonment for having taken part in a Tiananmen Square massacre vigil in June 2020.

“We plead with you to have compassion on his life and well-being and to correct this injustice. We will continue to hope and pray for his eventual release as well as for the well-being and prosperity of Hong Kong and all the peoples of the whole Chinese nation,” the letter to Mrs. Lam read.

The Christian leaders said Mr. Lai was exercising his rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law of freedom of expression, thought and political association. They urged his immediate release. Mr. Lai has been charged under the new national security law, introduced in June 2020 by the mainland government to crush the pro-democracy  movement.

“In this festive season, Jimmy Lai should be celebrating with his family and loved ones. In the spirit of the Chinese New Year and the Christian principle of forgiveness, I hope this letter will speak to the humanity of those within the Hong Kong government to show mercy,” Bishop Smith said.