Hong Kong authorities condemn UK minister meeting Jimmy Lai legal team

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, arrives the Court of Final Appeal by prison van in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong and Chinese authorities expressed strong opposition on Wednesday to a meeting between the legal team of Jimmy Lai, the jailed pro-democracy Hong Kong tycoon, and a British minister.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a junior foreign office minister, had met his team and said the ministry had provided support for Lai for the some time.

"The British government will always support rights and freedoms and the rule of law," Sunak's spokesperson said.

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.

He was sentenced last month to five years and nine months in prison after being convicted on two counts of fraud for covering up the operations of a private company at the headquarters of the newspaper, in what was ruled a breach of its land lease. He had denied the charges.

Lai has been behind bars since December 2020. He is facing another trial in September when he 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. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Hong Kong government said: "We will never tolerate, and strongly deplore, any form of interference by any foreign power or individual with the judicial proceedings and internal affairs of the HKSAR."

A separate statement from the Office of Commission of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong SAR said: "The political plot of some forces in the UK to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs by colluding with anti-China elements in Hong Kong is doomed to failure."

"We urge the British side to recognise the historical trend, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, immediately ditch colonial nostalgia, and do away with the moves that interfere in Hong Kong’s rule of law," the office spokesperson said in the statement.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Additional reporting by Jessie Pang in Hong Kong; Writing by Alistair Smout; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Alison Williams)