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US condemns fraud conviction of Hong Kong media tycoon Lai

Washington says the Chinese territory’s once-vibrant media ‘has all but disappeared’ amid sweeping crackdown on dissent.

The United States has slammed the fraud conviction of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, warning that the Chinese territory’s human rights protections are deteriorating and its once-vibrant press “has all but disappeared”.

Lai’s conviction on Tuesday is the latest in a slew of cases against the former owner of the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington condemned Lai’s conviction on “spurious fraud charges”, saying such efforts to stifle press freedoms undermine China’s international obligations to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and hurt the territory’s credibility as a business hub.

“We remain deeply concerned about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the National Security Law” imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Price said in a statement.

“We urge PRC authorities to restore respect for press freedom in Hong Kong,” Price said.

Lai and two former Apple Daily executives, Wong Wai-keung and Chow Tat-kuen, were accused of breaching the terms of a lease they signed with a government company for Apple Daily office space.

Lai, 74, was already behind bars over his role in huge democracy protests that swept through Hong Kong three years ago. He faces an upcoming trial on national security charges and up to life in prison.

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