Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was this week denied bail in connection with a fraud charge for improperly subleasing office space. With his trial scheduled for April of next year, it means that Lai faces a de facto jail term of at least four months. Lai, one of the most prominent figures in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, joins prominent activists including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow in jail, a day after they were given prison sentences for participating in a protest last year.
South China Morning Post’s Brian Wong reported that prosecutors had argued for remanding Lai in prison on the minor fraud charge while they prepared more serious national security charges against him:
The new police unit initially cited alleged collusion with foreign forces in apprehending the three and Lai’s associates, but did not lay any charges stemming from the Beijing-imposed legislation on Thursday.
However, the Department of Justice requested a magistrate appointed by the chief executive preside over Thursday’s hearing. Senior public prosecutor Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan said police were investigating the national security charges “expeditiously without delay”, and were confident they could make further progress before the next hearing.
Lai, 73, has been accused of improperly subleasing office space at Apple Daily Printing Limited to a secretarial firm, Dico Consultants Limited, between June 27, 2016, and May 22, 2020.
The prosecution alleged such activity violated the terms of a 1999 land lease by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, enabling Dico to evade land premiums and Next Digital to earn rent from Dico. [Source]
Lai and his sons were arrested on charges related to the National Security Law following a high profile raid of Apple Daily’s headquarters in August of this year.
Separately, another pro-democracy activist, Tam Tak-chi, was also denied bail and will be held in prison until March 2021 on sedition charges, after he was arrested for chanting “liberate Hong Kong” and “five demands, not one less” at several protests last year. Tam, notably, was not charged under the national security law, but with an archaic colonial era law unknown as the Crimes Ordinance, which was originally passed to “outlaw hatred or disaffection” toward the British monarchy and colonial administration. On Tuesday, following a request by the Department of Justice, it was revealed that a specially appointed ‘national security judge’ was assigned to Tam’s case. Under Article 44 of the National Security Law, the Chief Executive may designate certain judges to handle cases concerning “offenses endangering national security.”
The two cases underscore an emerging shift in the legal environment for individuals arrested on charges related to their pro-democracy activism. Citing the risk of them fleeing, judges and magistrates are increasingly choosing to hold defendants in custody pending their trials. This follows a number of high profile cases where activists out on bail have attempted to flee the city to seek asylum abroad. In the most dramatic case in September, 12 activists were intercepted in Chinese waters while attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan in the middle of the night. Those activists have been detained in Shenzhen and have been denied the right to choose their own lawyers.
Just yesterday, an elected lawmaker – who was among the pro-democracy legislators who resigned following the disqualification of four of their colleagues in November – revealed that he had fled the city with his family to seek exile in the U.K. Ted Hui was facing various criminal charges, ranging from contempt of the Legislative Council following a brawl in a council meeting to spilling a rotten plant on the floor of the Legislative Council chamber earlier this year. Last year, Hui had helped to initiate two private prosecutions—a mechanism by which ordinary residents can launch criminal complaints—against a police officer who shot a protestor with a live round and a taxi driver who had rammed his vehicles into protestors last year. The prosecutions were quashed by the Secretary for Justice in August of this year.
— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) January 1, 2020
Hong Kong Free Press’ Tom Grundy reported on Hui’s announcement, following much speculation that he had applied for asylum while ostensibly on a work trip:
“I just finished my three-day visit to Denmark, I hereby announce that I am in exile, and quit the Hong Kong democratic party, leaving Hong Kong,” he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Hui’s immediate family members have also reportedly left the city, according to HK01.
“Since the implementation of the national security law, until my recent exit from the Legislative Council, I have been asking myself, what else can I do for Hong Kong?,” he wrote. “I have tried struggling, and hoped to fight on the streets like last year, no longer caring about criminal liability. I have also tried to stay at the dying council, and use my remaining position to deal with the tyranny.”
“Now that none of that can really achieve anything, all resistance I can do as a Hongkonger – and from my position – is to continue to speak up for Hong Kong, and let the world still hear Hong Kong people’s shouts in our struggle, fight for the freedom of speech that Hong Kong people deserve in the free air of the foreign land, and take back Hong Kong’s discourse from the regime.” [Source]
Most striking line in statement by @tedhuichifung:
"I have a personal belief: going into exile is not emigration. I will never emigrate, Hong Kong is my home and I can never put down roots anywhere else. This is also a reason why I have not applied for asylum in any country." https://t.co/nrUMmFcbUA
— Holmes Chan (@holmeschan_) December 3, 2020