01/13/2021, 13.21
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Prayer and hunger strikes to free Jimmy Lai before the Chinese New Year

by Paul Wang

PIME missionary, Fr Franco Mella, met and prayed with the wife and the youngest son of the Catholic businessman held in prison. The request in the name of "humanity" to free six members of the democratic movement and the young people arrested in recent months. The priest asks for "humanity" and not "efficiency" also in the case of Alicia, separated from her mother Shifa by law.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Prayer and fasting so that Jimmy Lai and five other members of the democratic movement arrested in recent weeks can return to their families before the Chinese New Year.

This is what happened this morning, in a meeting between the wife and son of Jimmy Lai, the Catholic businessman in prison in the name of the security law, and PIME missionary, Fr Franco Mella, on the sixth day of his hunger strike so that the authorities favour “humanity" over "efficiency".

Lai, owner of Apple Daily newspaper - a critic of the corruption of the Chinese leadership and supporter of the democratic movement - is in prison, accused of fraud and "collusion" with foreign forces, according to the security law imposed by Beijing on the territory. If convicted, he could risk life imprisonment.

Arrested on December 3, Lai was released on December 23 on bail, but rearrested on December 31. Today, his wife Li Beihui and youngest son Li Taikai were able to visit him and talk with him for about an hour, bringing him the book "The Seven Storey Mountain" by the monk Thomas Merton as a gift.

Upon leaving Lai Chi Kok prison, they stopped and talked and prayed on their knees with Fr. Mella, who is observing a hunger strike, now in its sixth day, for the liberation of six members of the democratic movement.

“I hope however that the authorities release all the young people who have been arrested in recent months, allowing them to re-join their families before the New Year” - says Fr. Mella to AsiaNews.

On 6 January, 53 members of the democratic movement were arrested in a gigantic roundup involving over 1000 policemen, again in the name of the security law. Days later they were all released on bail, the charges being very weak. But in recent months, about 10 thousand people have been arrested for participating in rallies and demonstrations, banned in the name of anti-Covid rules. Another 10 are in prison in China for having entered Chinese territorial waters while fleeing to Taiwan.

Fr Mella is not new to humanitarian work. Since 1999, he has been demonstrating every year together with others for the right to family reunification of Chinese children and wives, linked to people of Hong Kong.

Since 2014 he has also taken to heart the situation of Alicia, a Ugandan child and her mother Shifa. Shifa had been convicted of a theft. Instead of being given to other family members (her grandmother and older brothers), her child was given up for adoption in January 2020 to an Indian family. The government will not even allow Shifa to contact her daughter by phone.

His hunger strike started six days ago in front of the Social Welfare Office (which made the decision to give Alicia over for adoption), but seeing "the situation of extreme frustration of the people of Hong Kong for the recent arrests and imprisonments", he decided to move in front of Lai Chi Kok prison, asking for freedom for those arrested in the democratic movement.

"Mine is purely spiritual support, with an invitation to everyone to give their contribution, with letters, visits and perhaps concrete actions for their release" - he explains.

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