National security trial for Hong Kong pro-democracy tycoon postponed to September
HONG KONG, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court on Tuesday postponed a landmark national security trial against media tycoon and China critic Jimmy Lai to late September, awaiting a decision from Beijing on whether a foreign lawyer could defend him.
High court judge Esther Toh set the new trial date from September 25 to November 21 next year, giving time for the ruling by China's National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). The trial is expected to last for 40 days.
"We don't know when the interpretation is going to be accepted ... (and) when the decision will be made," said Toh.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee requested the NPCSC weigh into the matter in November, after a series of failed attempts by the Department of Justice to block a British lawyer, Timothy Owen, from defending Lai.
The court was told that Owen had already left Hong Kong after the city's immigration department withheld an extension of his work visa to work on this case.
The Immigration Department did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Lai's defence has also said it preferred a trial date later next year given the unavailability of Owen before then.
Lai is currently serving a five years and nine months jail term in a separate fraud case and has been remanded in custody for nearly two years. read more
Hong Kong leader Lee had said earlier that it was necessary to seek Beijing’s intervention because “there is no effective means to ensure that a counsel from overseas will not have conflict of interest because of his nationality”.
It is the sixth time since Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 that an NPCSC interpretation has been sought, a move that some lawyers and legal scholars said would further jeopardise the city’s judicial independence.
Lai, 75, is the founder of now shut pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and one of the most prominent Hong Kong critics of China's Communist Party leadership including Xi Jinping.
Lai faces a maximum possible life sentence, including for two counts of conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign countries or external elements and one count of collusion with foreign forces.
Lai has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The national security law, punishing subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, was imposed by Beijing in 2020.
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