Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, is once again remanded in custody after Hong Kong’s highest court accepted the government’s appeal against his grant of bail by a lower court.
The Court of Final Appeal granted an interim order to detain the 73-year-old until the Appeal Committee hearing on Feb. 1 next year.
The judges held that it is “reasonably arguable” that the high court judge Alex Lee’s previous decision to grant bail was erroneous and that his order was invalid. They also ruled that the Appeal Committee has jurisdiction over the bail review.
The hearing on the New Year’s Eve was presided over by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma, permanent judges Andrew Cheung and Roberto Ribeiro – all of them are handpicked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to hear national security cases.
Anthony Chau, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, questioned if Justice Alex Lee’s decision to grant bail is “the final decision” and whether he interpreted Article 42 of the national security law correctly. Both involve important views of the law and public interest, the prosecutor argued.
Article 42 states that no bail shall be granted to a suspect unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the suspect will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.
Chau stressed that breaking the national security law is a serious offence with potential life sentence. He compared its severity to cases of murder and treason, which the court typically would not allow bail. The public cannot afford any abscond or reoffence of the law, he said.
While the court agrees on the importance of the legislation, Ma said judges must consider the wording of Article 42. The chief justice also pointed out the fact that Chau was repeating the same argument.
In his closing argument, senior counsel Peter Duncan, who represented Lai, said the Court of Final Appeal has no jurisdiction to review the bail decision of a lower court. The national security law does not affect the content and implementation of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance, he said. Lee’s decision to grant bail is made affirmatively and reasonably, he added.
First denied bail over an alleged fraud charge and then charged for colluding with foreign forces, Lai spent three weeks in custody before he was released on bail on Christmas Eve. The Department of Justice has immediately filed an appeal.
High Court judge Alex Lee ruled that Lai has an “arguable” case against the charge of breaking the national security law. While police cited Lai’s tweets, interviews and writings as evidence of foreign collusion, Lee noted that “the statements in question on their face appear to be comments and criticisms rather than requests, albeit one might find those views disagreeable or even offensive.”
Chinese state media have lambasted Lee’s decision to grant bail to the 73-year-old rebel mogul. Beijing’s mouthpiece People’s Daily said legal professionals “seriously misunderstood” the national security law and “undermined its authority.” It also warned that there are legal grounds for the authorities to extradite the case to China.
Lai was released on stringent conditions. Apart from paying a HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) cash bail and surrendering his travel documents, he is confined to his residence, banned from posting on social media or accepting media interviews.
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