Assange lawyer urges support for Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai

In the name of free speech, Julian Assange is a convicted criminal and Jimmy Lai awaits trial for sedition in a Hong Kong prison, but despite their struggles both men want the world to heed a call to arms.

Under a deal with US authorities, the WikiLeaks founder pleaded guilty to an espionage charge on the island of Saipan, an American territory.

He is now living freely in Australia as a convicted criminal.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at Canberra Airport
Jennifer Robinson says Julian Assange's prosecution sets a "dangerous" precedent. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Lai founded a newspaper in 1995 that took a stand against Beijing and ended up in jail, facing charges of colluding with a foreign country to harm national security and the prospect of life behind bars as China tightens its grip on the former British colony.

In an address to the National Press Club on Monday, human rights lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC warned of the "dangerous" precedent set for journalism by the prosecution of Assange.

"Journalists should be under no illusions, this is a prosecutorial strategy that the US has pursued, they insisted on the particular charge that you see in the plea deal," Assange's lawyer Ms Robinson said.

They urged Australia to join other democracies such as the US and UK in calling for the release of Mr Lai, who they represent.

The founder of Apple Daily, a once-popular and now-shuttered Chinese-language newspaper, has been imprisoned for three-and-a-half years and faces a life sentence under China's national security laws.

Sebastien Lai, the son of the 76-year-old political prisoner, joined his father's legal advisers in calling for Australia to heap pressure on Beijing for his father's release.

"If we don't speak out, these dictators get away with it," he said.

Ms Gallagher said the "modest request" was completely aligned with Australia's previous advocacy.

Ms Robinson said keeping a spotlight on Mr Lai's case was really important, which could be overshadowed by major international events.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have also been arrested under a crackdown on civil liberties.

Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai is taken away by police
Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai faces a life sentence under China's national security laws. (AP PHOTO)

The question of whether Assange can be counted as a news publisher has been heavily debated in the days since the WikiLeaks founder was released and flown to Canberra.

He has not commented publicly since his return but others have debated whether he put lives at risk by releasing a trove of US intelligence documents.

After a protracted legal battle, Assange has spent his first days back on home soil with his family.

His wife has said he would swim every day and savour "real food" as he sought to return to normal life.

Assange arrived back in Australia last week for the first time in 14 years, landing in Canberra after he left the UK.

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