Hong Kong’s high court docket places media tycoon Jimmy Lai again in custody

By Katherine Cheng

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Hong Kong Supreme Court ordered that media magnate Jimmy Lai, the most prominent person charged under the city’s national security law, be detained on bail Thursday.

The Court of Final Appeal ruling comes a week after Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, who is accused of collaborating with foreign forces, was released on bail of HKD 10 million (US $ 1.3 million) became social media.

Lai, 73, was on trial. He was not immediately available for comment after the verdict, but will appear again in court on February 1 for another bail hearing.

After months of protests against democracy, Beijing imposed national security legislation on the former British colony in June.

Critics say it aims to quell dissent and it undermines freedoms in the semi-autonomous, China-ruled city – allegations that the authorities in Hong Kong and China deny.

It is widely believed that Lai, a Beijing critic who has been to Washington frequently, is a target of the new legislation.

Prosecutors have accused Lai of violating the security law for making statements on July 30 and August 18 alleging that he sought foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.

On the earlier bail, a High Court judge ruled that Lai’s remarks were “comments and criticism” rather than a request for interference.

On Thursday the judges challenged this earlier assessment.

“We consider it reasonable in the present case that the learned judge has made a mistake,” said the judges in their decision with reference to Article 42 of the Security Act.

The article states: “A criminal suspect or accused will not be given bail unless the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that the criminal suspect or accused will no longer commit acts that endanger national security.”

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Outgoing Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma, Andrew Cheung, who replaces Ma as the city’s highest judge in January, and Roberto Ribeiro chaired the hearing.

In an editorial published on December 27, the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily said Lai was “extremely dangerous” and an “insurgent” and urged the Hong Kong judiciary to “make the right decision” on the bail appeal.

Five people from the Hong Kong Law Society, which has more than 10,000 registered members, expressed “serious” concern about the comments and urged Justice Minister Teresa Cheng to take action to defend the judiciary against “unjustified” allegations by state-controlled media.

Lai resigned earlier this week as chairman of Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, a popular tabloid known for its lively and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong.

The security law, strongly condemned by Western governments and right-wing groups, punishes what Beijing generally defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life imprisonment.

Under the new law, if released on bail, the defendant must demonstrate that he is not a national security threat. Traditionally, under Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system, it was the prosecution’s duty to prove their case.

(Reporting by Katherine Cheng and Jessie Pang, writing by Anne Marie Roantree, Editing by Robert Birsel)

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