Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was denied bail for the second time in a month after he appeared briefly at court on Saturday for an additional charge under the Beijing-imposed national security law, according to local reports.
The mainland-born 72-year-old was charged on Friday on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security,” a criminal offense under the controversial law that carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment.
Lai was brought to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning, where Hong Kong Chief Magistrate Victor So denied him bail, and adjourned the case to April 16, 2021. Prosecutors need more time to further investigate more than a thousand posts from Lai’s Twitter account, as well as overseas visits related to calls for U.S. sanctions against Hong Kong and China, reported the Hong Kong Free Press.
Lai had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he met officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
The same judge, who is one of the six magistrates hand-picked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to handle national security cases, had on Dec. 3 ordered to keep Lai behind bars over a separate charge of alleged fraud. For this charge, Lai was remanded in custody until his next court date, also in April 16, 2021.
Lai is the founder of Next Digital, an investment holding company that mainly focuses on media and publishing businesses, and owns Apple Daily. The Next Digital group is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedoms in Hong Kong.
Apple Daily is a widely-read tabloid known for its critical coverage of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the current pro-Beijing Hong Kong government.
Lai was first arrested in August under the national security law “on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger [China’s] national security, conspiracy to defraud, and other offenses.” Following his arrest, about 200 police officers raided Apple Daily’s newsroom on the same day.
He was later released on bail but police raided his company’s offices in October, after which he and two executives of Next Digital were charged with fraud over accusations that they violated lease terms on office space for the company. He was denied bail on Dec. 3 by Chief Magistrate So.
Critics, including Western countries and human rights groups, say the national security law would only serve to further threaten Hong Kong’s autonomy and allow the CCP to silence dissident voices under the guise of safeguarding “national security.”
Lai is arguably the most high-profile person to be charged under the national security law since it was implemented in June.
Three other pro-democracy activists—Joshua Wong and two of his longtime colleagues, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam—were recently handed months-long sentences for their roles in a mass protest that occurred in June 2019.