Hong Kong prosecutors on Tuesday filed a “seditious publications” charge against Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, adding to the charges he already faces under Beijing’s draconian national security law for his participation in a Tiananmen vigil in June 2020.
The same charge has also been leveled against three Apple Daily companies. Prosecutors allege that the publications could “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, according to the charge sheet.
Disapproval of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government figures has spilled over after brewing for the past decade, due to Beijing’s pushing of bills to cement its control over key policies in the former British colony, seen by many residents as a violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) agreed to leave self-ruled Hong Kong alone until at least 2047.
Lai appeared in West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court alongside six other former Apple Daily staff on Monday. The daily pro-democracy tabloid ceased publication in June after Hong Kong authorities raided the the newsroom, froze millions of the paper’s assets and arrested staff on Beijing’s “national security” grounds.
It comes just weeks after Apple Daily founder Lai, 74, was found guilty of unauthorized assembly charges over the banned Tiananmen Square vigil.
Hong Kong for three decades has held the world’s largest annual vigil on June 4 to commemorate the hundreds or potentially thousands of innocent lives lost on June 3 and 4, 1989, after the CCP ordered its troops to open fire on pro-democracy activists at and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Lai and others had pleaded not guilty to having incited others to participate in the event. Thousands of locals had defied the ban and gathered for the June 4, 2020, vigil.
The event was banned in 2020 and 2021 by Hong Kong police, citing restrictions related to the CCP virus, which causes the disease COVID-19. In 2021, the CCP imposed a ban on all Tiananmen Square massacre commemorations in Hong Kong or Macau.
The six former Apple Daily staffers to be hit with the same sedition charge include chief editor Ryan Law; deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man; Cheung Kim-hung, the CEO of Next Digital, Apple’s parent media company; columnist Yeung Ching-kee; English edition editor Fung Wai-kong; and senior editor Lam Man-chung.
They have also been accused of “conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country or with external elements.”
Magistrate Peter Law adjourned the case against Lai and six of his former staff until Feb. 24, and the defendants will remain in custody until then. The case against the three Apple Daily companies has been adjourned until Feb. 10.
Mimi Nguyen Ly and Reuters contributed to this report.