Jimmy Lai, founder of media company Next Digital, on Wednesday succeeded in securing bail at the High Court in Hong Kong after spending three weeks in detention, although he ran straight into prosecutors’ opposition to the judge’s decision that very afternoon.
Lai, 73, was expected to be picked up by his chauffeur for the ride home on the same night, after Justice Lee Wan-tang, a judge designated to hear national security cases, in the evening rejected prosecutors’ arguments to keep him in continued custody pending an appeal against his bail approval.
Lai is scheduled to be due in court on April 16 regarding his charges of fraud and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The judge initially announced his approval of Lai’s bail application in the afternoon after both defense and prosecution lawyers presented their arguments that morning. The government team, led by senior assistant director of public prosecutions Anthony Chau, appealed against the bail approval and against releasing Lai pending appeal, but Lee eventually rejected their arguments. The prosecutors’ appeal would be heard by another judge on a different day.
Based on bail conditions Lee has laid down, Lai, represented by Peter Duncan SC, is to put up a cash bail of HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) and HK$100,000 in surety. While out on bail, the defendant is banned from asking foreign countries or institutions, organizations or individuals to impose sanctions or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong and China.
Other bail conditions include barring Lai from meeting foreign officials, accepting television, radio or online media interviews, publishing articles in newspapers or online platforms, or uploading posts on social media including but not limited to Twitter. Lai is required to stay at home except when it becomes necessary to report to the police, which he must do three times a week, or to attend court to hear his case. He must surrender his passport and is not allowed to leave Hong Kong.
Lee’s decisions on Wednesday mark a victory of sorts for Lai, who was previously denied bail and had been remanded in Lai Chi Kok detention center in Kowloon since Dec. 3 over one count of fraud concerning land use. He was to have made a second attempt at bail on that charge in the High Court on Dec. 15, but four days earlier on Dec. 11, the city’s national security police added one count of collusion with foreign forces to their prosecution of Lai, who failed to be granted bail over that charge. The offense is punishable under the city’s national security laws with a maximum penalty of up to life in jail.
At that time, the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts scheduled both cases for mention again on April 16. With the inclusion of the national security charge, Lai was on Dec. 18 transferred to the top-security Stanley Prison, where he was understood to be kept in a single cell.
On Wednesday morning, family members, friends and colleagues of Lai arrived at the High Court to show their support. They waved at the media tycoon as he appeared in the courtroom, and he responded with a finger gesture of a heart.
Including Lai, four defendants who are facing national security charges are being remanded in custody. Two of them had sought to be released on bail at the High Court, but Lee rejected their applications.
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