Remanded in custody over alleged fraud, Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was denied bail again at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning for the additional charge of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” The case is adjourned until April 16.
The case is handled by Chief Magistrate Victor So, one of six magistrates handpicked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to adjudicate national security proceedings. He had earlier denied bail to Lai over alleged fraud.
Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, applied to postpone the trial till April next year, to allow time for police to conduct further investigation, including a full inspection into over a thousand tweets and comments made on his Twitter account.
The Apple Daily founder was accused of requesting a foreign country, institution, organisation or an individual to “impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities” against HKSAR or China during July 1 to Dec. 1, thus violating Article 29 of the national security law.
Allegations against Lai mentioned a number of foreign politicians that followed Lai on Twitter, including Wang Dan, Chinese dissident and prominent leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. It also cited excerpts from his interviews with multiple international media outlets as well as commentaries written by Lai.
The prosecutor also cited Article 42 and the case of Tong Ying-kit, the first defendant under the national security law, to object against granting bail to Lai.
The hearing began at 11:30am on Saturday. The 73-year-old appeared in good spirits, nodding in greetings to family, friends and coworkers who attended the trial, which included executives of his media group Next Digital and pro-democracy figures. He also looked towards the public seating area and exchanged looks with his son.
Lai was also charged with alleged fraud over the use of Next Digital’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O for purposes not allowed in the building lease. The case is also adjourned till April.
A number of top U.S. officials have voiced their support for Lai on the day of his trial.
U.S. vice president Mike Pence tweeted that: “Today’s charges against Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong are an affront to freedom loving people around everywhere.” He continued, “Jimmy Lai is a hero and I remain inspired by his stand for democracy and the rights that were promised to the people of Hong Kong.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tweeted that “Hong Kong’s National Security Law makes a mockery of justice. Jimmy Lai’s only ‘crime’ is speaking the truth about the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarianism and fear of freedom.”
“Charges should be dropped and he should be released immediately,” he added.
Nabila Massrali, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, tweeted that: “The charges against activist Jimmy Lai under the national security law is another concerning development for Hong Kong’s civil society and pro-democracy voices. Fundamental freedoms must be respected and protected.”
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