Jimmy Lai’s Trial Spotlights Beijing’s Reach

Happy Wednesday! And happy 2024! After a restful holiday season, we’re prepared (we think) to keep you up to speed on what is surely going to be an insane year.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Hamas’ deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri and at least six other members of the terrorist group were killed in a Hezbollah-run neighborhood of Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday in a suspected Israeli drone strike, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.* Israeli leadership has yet to confirm if it was responsible for the assassination of the terrorist leader who helped to design the October 7 attacks on Israel, though officials from both the U.S. and Lebanon attributed the attack to Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati accused Israel of violating his country’s sovereignty by carrying out the attack, and said he would file a complaint with the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile, Israeli military officials have declared a “very high level of readiness” and urged Israeli civilians to heed the instructions of Home Front Command in preparation for the possibility of retaliation by Hezbollah, a Hamas-aligned group with weapons and fighters stationed along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
  • In an 8-7 ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law that would’ve stripped the judiciary of its ability to reverse decisions by government officials on the basis that they are “unreasonable.” The invalidated legislation, passed by the Knesset in July as an amendment to Israel’s quasi-constitutional set of Basic Laws, was a key component of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform proposal. The ruling marks the first time the high court has exercised judicial review over a Basic Law.
  • U.S. Navy helicopters sank three Houthi boats in the Red Sea on Sunday, as the Iranian-backed pirates attacked and attempted to board the Maersk Hangzhou, a Singapore-flagged, Danish-owned container ship that had come under Houthi missile fire the night before. U.S. forces “responded to the distress call and in the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew served weapons and small arms,” read a statement from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) describing the event. “The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews.” Shipping giant A.P. Moeller-Maersk will pause all transit through the Red Sea until further notice after the attack on its ship. The USS Gerald R. Ford, deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, is returning to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia, officials announced on Monday. Meanwhile, the Iranian warship Alborz reportedly entered the Red Sea on Monday.
  • The Russian military continued its assault on Ukraine Tuesday morning, firing missiles and drones into Kyiv in response to a Ukrainian attack on the Russian city of Belgorod over the weekend. Ukrainian air force officials reportedly managed to shoot down 72 of the 99 missiles launched into the country, though the attack still killed five civilians and injured nearly 130 others. Yesterday’s attack on Kyiv followed a Russian attack on Kharkiv on Sunday, which involved six missiles and Iranian-made Shahed drones.
  • Lee Jae-myung, the leader of South Korea’s Democratic Party, was stabbed in the neck on Tuesday in Busan, South Korea, while answering questions from reporters during a visit to the site of a planned international airport. The suspect was arrested at the scene and later confessed to attempting to kill the opposition leader, who is in an intensive care unit but expected to survive. Police are still investigating a motive for the attack.
  • A 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck the Japanese prefecture of Ishikawa on Monday, killing at least 62 people and flattening thousands of buildings. More than 90 percent of homes in the town of Suzu, located near the quake’s epicenter, were destroyed.
  • Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned on Tuesday amid criticism over her response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, her reaction to and congressional testimony about antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, and mounting accusations of academic plagiarism. “After consultation with members of the [Harvard] Corporation, it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual,” Gay wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity—and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education.” Gay’s presidential tenure was the shortest in Harvard history, lasting just six months and two days.

Jimmy Lai on Trial

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai is escorted into a Hong Kong Correctional Services van outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong on February 1, 2021, after being ordered to remain in jail while judges consider his fresh bail application. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai is escorted into a Hong Kong Correctional Services van outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong on February 1, 2021, after being ordered to remain in jail while judges consider his fresh bail application. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Hong Kong pro-democracy publisher and activist Jimmy Lai repeated “not guilty” three times—once for each of the national security charges he’s facing in Hong Kong. He did not stand before a jury of his peers, but rather before three Hong Kong High Court judges, handpicked by the Beijing-backed chief executive of the region. The panel will, at the end of his likely months-long trial, decide whether Lai will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The 76 year old has spent more than 1,000 days in prison since his re-arrest in December 2020 on charges of sedition and colluding with foreign forces. The trial, which began on December 18 and has been called “unfair” by Lai’s attorneys, has become a test of Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the highest-profile example of deteriorating rule of law and fundamental freedoms in the “Special Administrative Region” as China tightens control of its sphere of influence.   

Lai is a Chinese-mainland-born, self-made billionaire who earned his fortune in the clothing industry before turning to publishing. He’s been a staunch pro-democracy activist and persistent nuisance to Beijing since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sent tanks to crush the Tiananmen Square rebellion in 1989, even declaring himself in late 2020 “a born rebel.” In 1995, Lai launched Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper frequently critical of the CCP. When Hongkongers flooded the streets in 2019 to protest a Beijing-backed law that would have allowed Hong Kong natives to be extradited to mainland China for trial, reporters for Apple Daily covered the demonstrations and at times also encouraged them. Lai marched with protesters, as he had in several other pro-democracy demonstrations over the last few decades.  

This content is available exclusively to Dispatch members
Try a membership for full access to every newsletter and all of The Dispatch. Support quality, fact-based journalism.
Already a paid member? Sign In
Comments (198)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More