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Jimmy Lai’s son urges David Cameron to demand release of media tycoon: ‘Stand by my father’s side’

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is led into a police van as he heads to court to be charged under the territory’s controversial National Security Law, in December 2020  (AFP/Getty)
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is led into a police van as he heads to court to be charged under the territory’s controversial National Security Law, in December 2020 (AFP/Getty)

Media mogul Jimmy Lai’s son has urged David Cameron to demand the release of his father ahead of a high-profile trial set to begin mid-December in Hong Kong.

Lai’s loved ones fear he will die in prison after the 76-year-old was arrested in Hong Kong under the China-imposed draconian National Security Law in 2020 following the pro-democracy movement.

The fierce Beijing critic and founder of the now-defunct “pro-democracy” Apple Daily newspaper was arrested in August 2020 for allegedly colluding with foreign forces.

His son, Sebastien Lai, has called on Lord Cameron to “stand by my father’s side” and demand his release, which would send a "clear message" to China.

“I have no doubt that Lord Cameron will do right by his country and its citizens,” he told The Observer.

Mr Lai said he had managed to secure a meeting with the British foreign secretary this week to discuss his father’s imprisonment.

While Washington has criticised a previous conviction of Lai on fraud charges, the European parliament has publicly called for the activists’s release.

“This is a man who is obviously strong, but nothing can be taken for granted at his age. I can only imagine what it is like being in solitary confinement for more than 1,000 days," Mr Lai said.

Mr Lai has been an advocate on behalf of his father ahead of his trial, which is due to begin on 18 December. His father’s UK legal team has been denied access to Lai and subjected to cyberattacks.

He said he had been asking to meet the British foreign secretary since July 2022 and Lord Cameron was the third secretary to receive the request. “I have met foreign ministers from other countries, but I have yet to meet with one from the UK,” Mr Lai said.

Lai’s son and other campaigners have previously urged the government to be “frank and open” about its discussions with China after former foreign secretary James Cleverly in August tweeted that he had challenged China on Lai’s case.

“Far from damaging the relationship, calling for my father’s release would be a vital step in repairing it,” Lai had then told The Independent.

“It is disappointing that our own government has so far failed to do the same and won’t be open and frank about its discussions with China on his case,” he added.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson told The Observer: “British national Jimmy Lai’s case is a priority for HMG [His Majesty’s Government], which has been raised on multiple occasions with the Chinese government, most recently when the foreign secretary spoke to Wang Yi this week.”

“Mr Lai’s prosecution has been highly politicised – he and others are being deliberately targeted to silence criticism under the guise of national security,” the spokesperson added.