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Hong Kong’s Supreme Court has allowed a British lawyer to defend publisher Lai

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HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld a ruling allowing a veteran British lawyer to defend …

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s top court on Monday upheld a ruling allowing a veteran British lawyer to defend a 74-year-old pro-democracy publisher in a national security trial this week, despite fierce opposition from the pro-Beijing camp in the southern Chinese city.

Jimmy Lai, founder of the company the now defunct Apple Daily and one of the most prominent figures in the city’s pro-democracy movement, was arrested after Beijing imposed a harsh n national security law to suppress dissent after mass protests in 2019. He faces conspiracy charges and a maximum sentence of life in prison. His trial is expected to begin on Thursday.

While the city’s justice secretary has appealed the decision, pro-Beijing politicians and newspapers have also raised objections over the past few days. Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislature, Tam Yu-chung, warned on Saturday that the body would need to “interpret” the law — a move that could effectively preempt a court ruling — if the situation remained unchanged.

On Monday, the top court ruled that the secretary had raised “vague and unsubstantiated issues alleged to be related to national security” that had not been mentioned or considered in the lower courts.

“There are no relevant grounds for leave to appeal,” the judges said.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, uses the same common law jurisdiction as the UK. In addition to having foreign judges in the city’s courts, lawyers from other common law jurisdictions can work in the city’s legal system, especially if their experience is needed in some cases.

The barrister involved in Lai’s case was Timothy Owen, a veteran London-based lawyer specializing in criminal law and human rights.

Matrix Chambers’ Owen has appeared in previous high-profile cases in Hong Kong. He represented British banker Rurik Jatting, who was convicted of murdering two women, and a police officer who appealed against his conviction for assaulting a pro-democracy activist during the 2014 protests.

Last month, a lower court allowed him to represent Lai, saying it was in the public interest to have a prominent foreign expert like Owen on trial. But the justice minister insisted on his objections, despite other judges rejecting his proposals to reverse this ruling. He proposed a blanket ban on foreign lawyers handling national security matters, except in exceptional circumstances.

Lai is already serving 20 months of imprisonment for participating in unauthorized meetings. He is also awaiting a verdict on his own conviction for fraud Next month.

Earlier, his legal team asked the United Nations for this investigate his imprisonment and several criminal charges as “legal harassment” to punish him for speaking out.

The National Security Act criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. This led to the arrest of many prominent democracy activists and undermined faith in the future of the international financial center.

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