The Hong Kong government rejected on Thursday a petition from ten overseas Catholic Church leaders that called for the immediate and unconditional release of pro-democracy activist and media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai from prison. The government stated that the Catholic leaders made slanderous statements about Hong Kong and inappropriately intervened in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.The petition was launched on November 1 by ten bishops of the Catholic Church that hail from various countries, including the US, Australia, India and Nigeria. In urging the Hong Kong government to release 75-year-old Lai from prison, the petition suggested that Lai should no longer be persecuted for supporting pro-democracy causes. It also stated, “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.”However, the Hong Kong government rejected the petition and described it as “misleading and slanderous.” The government wrote:Any person, regardless of his or her identity, who attempts to interfere with the judicial proceedings in [Hong Kong] in order to procure a defendant’s evasion of the criminal justice process, is blatantly undermining the rule of law of [Hong Kong] … The [Hong Kong government] strongly urges the foreign Catholic leaders to discern facts from fallacies, and immediately stop interfering in [Hong Kong’s] internal affairs and the [Hong Kong] courts’ independent exercise of judicial power.Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok said on Friday that the petition breached the fundamental spirit of the rule of law by attempting to interfere with Hong Kong’s judicial system. He asserted that the petition will unite Hong Kong’s legal and judicial communities and that Hong Kong’s legal system will continue to operate in respect of the rule of law.Hong Kong’s District Court sentenced Lai to almost six years in prison on December 10, 2022 over fraud charges. He was already serving a 20-month prison sentence for participating in a vigil that commemorated the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre then.Lai is scheduled to stand trial at the High Court on December 18 over National Security Law charges. On May 19, the High Court dismissed an attempt by Lai to overturn a decision that prohibited his British lawyer from representing him in his National Security Law trials.

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