As hotelier Jimmy Lai languishes in a Hong Kong jail cell, on trial for supporting democratic reforms, his family here in Niagara-on-the-Lake last week had no idea he was about to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for a second time.
Despite that, on Thursday week when two U.S. politicians put forward Lai’s nomination for the prestigious honour, his family members weren’t surprised, says his niece, Erica Lepp.
It simply seemed just and right.
“My uncle has always been such a peaceful and kind and loving man,” Lepp said in an interview.
“As I’ve known him and as our family has known him, he’s always someone that just truly really always leads with love.”
Lai, a longtime and outspoken advocate for democratic reform, has been jailed in Hong Kong by the Chinese government and is in the midst of a show trial by the Communist regime.
He has pleaded not guilty to allegations of breaching a national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government after massive protests there in 2019. The trial began in December.
The Beijing regime has accused Lai of masterminding the uprising with the help of foreign conspirators.
Lai, who has many business holdings, owns Vintage Hotels in NOTL, which includes the Prince of Wales, Queen’s Landing and the Pillar and Post. He also was the longtime publisher of the now-closed pro-democracy tabloid newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong.
Lepp, who grew up in NOTL and still lives here, is the daughter of Lai’s twin sister, Si Wai Lai. She has fond memories of her uncle.
“I would spend holidays with him when I was young sometimes. And he just was always leading with love and peace, even in business.”
“So, with everything going on” – particularly his trial for championing democracy – “it’s not surprising at all that he would be nominated.”
“We’re all just really proud of him,” she said. “He’s just such a wonderful, loving, peaceful man.”
In 2022, Lai and four other jailed leaders of Hong Kong pro-democracy movement were nominated for the Peace Prize by a group of 15 academics from around the world.
That year, the Peace Prize went to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights group Center for Civil Liberties.
Bob Jackson, CEO of Vintage Hotels, told The Lake Report, “We are thrilled to hear of Mr. Lai’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“As the founder, and undeniable inspiration for Vintage Hotels and the Lais Hotel group in Canada, it is a fitting recognition for someone who has sacrificed so much in the fight for freedom and democracy.”
“Our hope is that this continues to shine a light on the unjust trial and imprisonment of Jimmy in Hong Kong. As always, he is in our thoughts and in our prayers,” Jackson said.
Leaders around the world, including Canada’s Parliament, have been critical of Lai’s detention and trial. On Dec. 12, four days after Lai’s 76th birthday, the House of Commons unanimously called for his release.
His supporters hope the Nobel nomination helps pressure China to free him.
The Nobel committee generally does not announce the names of nominees – scores of people are formally nominated for the Peace Prize every year – but nominators are free to reveal the names they put forward.
So last week, Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Jeff Merkley (Oregon), chairs of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, released their letter to the Nobel committee announcing their official nomination of Lai and three other “champions of human rights, peace and freedom in China and Hong Kong” for the coveted Peace Prize.
Also named for the honour were Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti and human rights lawyers Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi.
Regarding Lai, his nominators noted that since his detention in 2020, “the Hong Kong government has destroyed press freedom, and all independent news outlets have closed, either a chilling effect of Lai’s detention or a result of direct government suppression.”’
“All these (nominated) individuals embody the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize and justly deserve the award,” Smith and Merkley said.
“The Peace Prize will focus the world’s attention on all those struggling to exercise their fundamental human rights in the People’s Republic of China.”