He is the highest-profile pro-democracy figures persecuted under the security law China imposed in Hong Kong to stamp out dissent on June 30. Media giant and pro-democracy supporter Jimmy Lai, who is the founder of Apple Daily, was sent back to jail by the Court of Final Appeal, while prosecutors appealed a bail decision. Lai is a vocal critic of the Beijing government and was granted bail after three weeks in custody on charges of fraud and endangering national security with the next hearing on February 1. Prosecutors accused the 73-year-old of breaching the security law over statements made on July 30 and August 18, alleging he sought foreign interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Explaining the decision to grant Lai bail, High Court judge Alex Lee said Lai’s remarks were comments and criticisms.
But the Appeals judges questioned that assessment in their ruling, referring to Article 42 of the security law which stipulates that “no bail would be granted to a suspected criminal or defendant until the judge has grounds to believe that the suspect or defendant would not continue to commit these acts that may endanger national security”. Senior Reporters mentioned that it was the first time that the Court of Appeal in Hong Kong ruled in a case about the new national security law. Most legal experts are hoping that this decision does not necessarily mean that this signals the conclusion of Hong Kong’s independence, but activists are worried that the independence of the judicial system is at stake and it looks rather shaky. The three judges who ruled in the matter are on Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive’s pre-approved list of judges who take part in national security cases. Carrie Lam and her political masters in Beijing will be chuffed with the court ruling, as it toes Beijing’s policies.
Lai remains under effective house arrest as part of bail conditions, and entered the Court of Final Appeal without comments to supporters and media, as he entered the courtroom. He was accused of fraud for violating the terms of lease of his office space for the media company he founded, Next Digital. He was charged again under the national security law for colluding with foreign forces. The whole process is a threat to the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. Lai was first denied bail, but he appealed in the High Court and got bail. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing media severely criticized the judge’s decision, and the Court of Final Appeal was pressurised from Beijing.
The People’s Daily declared that Lai acted dangerously as an insurgent, and encouraged the Hong Kong judiciary to think independently during the bail appeal. The Hong Kong Law Society, with over 10,000 members, expressed serious concern about the comments and appealed to Teresa Cheng to protect the judiciary against the unwarranted accusations laid by China’s state-run media. Lai and other pro-democracy supporters and activists were arrested by police in Hong Kong in the recent months as the authorities tighten their crackdown on all dissent in Hong Kong. This case is a negative example of trying to teach the Hong Kong people, a lesson.