Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller is among a group of 10 Catholic leaders from around the world this week who called upon the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to release prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and Catholic Jimmy Lai, who has been imprisoned there for nearly three years.
Noting the situation in Hong Kong “greatly concerns” Vancouver Catholics, especially in the Asian Catholic community, Archbishop Miller told The B.C. Catholic there is an obligation to help those unjustly persecuted.
“Christian charity leads us to pray and do all we can from a practical perspective to help those who are facing persecution,” said the Archbishop.
“Mr. Lai is a person of faith who is being silenced and imprisoned for his pro-democracy convictions. Justice demands that we speak up for them and give them a voice.”
Lai has been an outspoken democracy advocate in Hong Kong for years. He founded the tabloid Apple Daily in 1995 which took a strong pro-democracy stance in the administrative region.
Lai was originally arrested in August of 2020 under that year’s controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government and sharply curtailed free speech in the region in an effort to quash what the Chinese Communist Party considered subversion and sedition in the separately administered region of Hong Kong.
The law’s harsh penalties include life in prison for what the government deems sedition or terrorism, including acts such as damaging public transport facilities. Lai himself was accused of colluding with foreign adversaries and conspiracy to defraud.
Since then, the activist has been convicted of assembly violations and a fraud charge. In September, he marked his 1,000th day in prison in Hong Kong awaiting trial on further charges. The Apple Daily, meanwhile, ceased publication in 2021 after a government raid and multiple arrests of employees.
In a petition this month signed by 10 Catholic bishops and archbishops, the prelates “call[ed] on the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai.”
“Mr. Lai’s persecution for supporting pro-democracy causes through his newspaper and in other forums has gone on long enough,” the prelates wrote.
“There is no place for such cruelty and oppression in a territory that claims to uphold the rule of law and respect the right to freedom of expression,” they said.
“In standing up for his beliefs and committing himself through his faith to challenge autocracy and repression, Jimmy Lai has lost his business, been cut off from his family, and has just surpassed 1,000 days in prison, while facing the prospect of many more years of incarceration to come.”
“He is 75 years old,” the bishops said. “He must be freed now.”
In a separate press release, the barristers at the human-rights-focused Doughty Street Chambers said Lai “faces a potential life sentence for his peaceful pro-democracy campaigning and his work at Apple Daily.”
The barristers noted that the national security law “has been heavily criticized by many governments, international bodies and civil society organizations.”
Sebastien Lai, the son of Jimmy Jai, said in the press release that he was “grateful and honored to see Catholics and Catholic leaders from around the world speaking out on my father’s behalf, and calling out for his release from unjust imprisonment.”
“My father’s faith and belief in right and wrong are key to understanding why my father stood up for democracy for the people of Hong Kong, despite the obvious dangers to his life,” he said.
“Even now, imprisoned at 75 years old, his faith is what keeps him strong; it is something the Hong Kong authorities can’t take away from him, having taken away so much else.”
In addition to Archbishop Miller, the following prelates called for Lai’s release:
- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York
- Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major-Archbishop of Trivandrum, India
- Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, Military Services-USA
- Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP, Sydney, Australia
- Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, Vilnius, Lithuania
- Archbishop John Wilson, Southwark, U.K.
- Bishop Robert E. Barron, Winona-Rochester
- Bishop Alan A. McGuckian, SJ, Raphoe, Ireland
- Bishop Lucius Ugorji Umuahia, Nigeria
CNA/EWTN News with B.C. Catholic files