Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai was denied bail on Dec. 3 following his arrest for alleged fraud, which will keep Lai behind bars until his next court date in April 2021.
Lai, 73, and two other executives of his media conglomerate Next Digital Group, which publishes the local newspaper Apple Daily, reported to local police on Dec. 2 as part of their bail conditions after their arrests on Aug. 10. That day, more than 200 police raided the Apple Daily newsroom, known for being critical of the Chinese regime.
Lai and the two executives, director Royston Chow and administrative director Wong Wai-keung, were charged with fraud and held overnight at the time. The three were accused of breaking the lease agreement for Apple Daily’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O district between 2016 and 2020.
The landlord of the office building is a public corporation set up by the Hong Kong government.
On Dec. 3, they appeared for a court session at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Both Chow and Wong were released after posting bail. However, Judge Victor So denied Lai’s bail application, saying the defendant was likely to abscond. The case was then adjourned until April 16, 2021.
Prosecutors also said that the three could still be charged for crimes under the newly implemented national security law, according to local media RTHK. On Aug. 10, Lai was arrested for “colluding with foreign forces.”
So is one of six judges chosen by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to handle national security cases. Lam is granted this power, as the city’s chief executive, under the national security law. The law, which went into effect in Hong Kong late on June 30, punishes vaguely defined crimes such as secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
When Beijing first laid out its proposal for the security law, the Hong Kong Bar Association expressed concerns about allowing Lam to select judges for certain criminal offenses. It said that such a move would contradict the “intent and spirit” of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which guarantees judiciary independence.
Lai’s detention immediately drew international rebuke.
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British NGO Hong Kong Watch, defended Lai and condemned Beijing over its latest attempt to “suffocate the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.”
“The politically motivated and trumped-up charges against Jimmy Lai bare no resemblance to due process or the rule of law for which Hong Kong has historically been respected around the world,” Rogers said in a statement.
He added: “The fact that the judge presiding over Jimmy’s case is alleged to have been handpicked by Carrie Lam is a testament to how fast the city’s constitutional safeguards have unravelled.”
The Washington-based pro-democracy lobbying group HKDC stated on its Twitter account: “Mr. Lai is now a political prisoner under Carrie Lam’s regime.”
Danish Parliament member Uffe Elbaek condemned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for prominent activist Joshua Wong’s jail sentence and Lai’s detention.
“China has destroyed Hong Kong as we knew it. From the most lively and beautiful city to a ghost city. Everything the CCP touches dies,” Elbaek wrote on Twitter.
Wong was one of three pro-democracy activists sentenced to months-long imprisonment on Dec. 2, for their roles in a mass protest that occurred in June 2019. The sentencing also drew international condemnation, including from many U.S. lawmakers.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said about the sentencing: “Beijing’s overreach in Hong Kong has resulted in the complete erosion of rule of law,” adding that the three should be released immediately and their charges dropped.
The European Union’s foreign affairs and security policy spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, said the three activists’ sentencing was “another sign of shrinking space for pro-democracy voices in #HongKong.” She added that EU foreign ministers will discuss Hong Kong during a Dec. 7 meeting.