Activist Andy Li excluded from 2020 fundraiser, court hears

Hong Kong activist Andy Li did not take part in a pro-democracy crowdfunding campaign in May 2020 owing to risks linked to the enactment of the Beijing-enacted national security law, a court has heard at the landmark trial of media mogul Jimmy Lai. 

Monday marked day 52 of Lai’s 80-day trial under the 2020 security law for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces. The founder of the now-defunct newspaper Apple Daily also faces charges of conspiring to publish seditious materials under the Crimes Ordinance.

Hong Kong activist Andy Li. Photo: Screenshot, via Radio Free Asia.

Li, one of the defendants in the case, continued to testify for the prosecution against the 76-year-old tycoon who faces life imprisonment if convicted. Prosecutors had asked the activist about a 2020 fundraising drive by activist group Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong, which he co-founded and remains active today.

National security risks

An internal discussion was held about the campaign, which was the fourth in a series of initiatives supporting the 2019 protests and the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The team concluded that Li should not take part in the campaign, as he – and his bank account – were based in Hong Kong. The money raised would be handled through a new trust – The Project Hong Kong Trust – instead, the activist testified. 

“There was no need to risk… keeping the person or the money in Hong Kong, or risk having the money in Hong Kong’s banking system,” Li said in Cantonese. 

The prosecution followed up and asked what kind of risks were involved. Li said it was to avoid the possibility of being seen as committing money-laundering or the funds being frozen by the bank. 

A national security law banner. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.A national security law banner. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.
A national security law banner. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The activist added there were rumours that the national security law would be put forward by Beijing, and it was better for the fundraising campaign to avoid letting an individual in the jurisdiction of Hong Kong hold onto money raised. 

“We did not know what the national security law would entail. To play it safe, it was considered better to not use a person in Hong Kong,” he said. 

Contact with UK politician 

The prosecution on Monday showed Li’s conversation with UK Conservative Party member Luke de Pulford on the messaging app Telegram. The British politician was among a group of overseas figures who visited Hong Kong in November 2019 to “observe” the District Council election, which concluded with a landslide victory by the pro-democracy camp amid the months-long unrest. 

Luke de PulfordLuke de Pulford
Luke de Pulford in Hong Kong. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

De Pulford met Li during his visit, and Li did not challenge the Telegram records showing that he had been in contact with the British politician since January 2020. 

Lobbying in Japan

Li on Monday was also grilled about his involvement in lobbying Japanese politicians. He said he had met with then-House of Representative Shiori Yamao – who now goes by the surname Kanno following her divorce – in early 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also in the meeting was a Japan-based Hongkonger said to be surnamed “Cheung.” He had prepared a bill for the Japanese lawmaker to submit to parliament concerning human rights issues in Hong Kong, Li said, but Kanno showed them a human rights bill she and her assistant drafted.

Hong Kong prosecutors had named Kanno as one of the co-conspirators in the case.

The bill would enable Japan to address human rights violations in Hong Kong within its legal framework and impose a “deterrence effect,” the activist said. Li was asked multiple times about the consequences or restrictions the bill could impose on human rights violators, but the activist insisted he could not give a concrete example as he was not certain about the content of the bill. 

Li will return to the witness stand on Wednesday. 

Jimmy LaiJimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

When Lai’s trial began on December 18, 2023, he had already spent more than 1,000 days in custody after having had his bail revoked in December 2020. Three judges – handpicked by Hong Kong’s chief executive to hear national security cases – are presiding over Lai’s trial in the place of a jury, marking a departure from the city’s common law traditions.

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers and led to hundreds of arrests amid new legal precedents, while dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs.

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