Jimmy Lai, a 73-year-old Hong Kong media mogul, outspoken critic of China, pro-democracy activist, and recipient of the Acton Institute’s 2020 Faith and Freedom Award, will approach a year behind bars as his national security case is transferred to Hong Kong’s High Court and postponed to Dec. 28.
Lai was remanded on National Security Law (NSL) charges on New Year’s Eve 2020 after his appeal for bail was rejected. Lai’s new court date will make him three days shy of spending an entire year behind bars.
Lai, along with six former Apple Daily and Next Digital employees, who are also charged under the wide-sweeping NSL, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court on Oct. 12.
This is the first time Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper and its parent company, Next Digital Media Company, was seen alongside former staff members of his two companies.
The six defendants are former CEO of Next Digital Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s former editor-in-chief Ryan Law, former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, former executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, former editor-in-chief of Apple Daily’s English news section Fung Wai-kwong, and former editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee.
Defendants entered the court as a public gallery of supporters waved and offered encouragement, shouting, “Mr. Lai, hang in there,” according to the Hong Kong Free Press. The court session began 40 minutes after its scheduled start time.
The three companies, Next Digital, Apple Daily, and Apple Daily Limited, spearheaded by Lai in response to Hong Kong’s anti-democratic policies, were not present at the hearing.
Lai has a litany of charges against him under the ever-restrictive NSL, including collusion with foreign forces, endangering national security, conspiracy with foreign forces and through a series of actions allegedly intended to pervert the course of justice, and unauthorized assembly. His former coworkers, much like Lai, did not escape the Hong Kong government’s tightening grip under the NSL, put into effect June 2020.
Cheung and Law, along with the three companies, stand accused of conspiring with Lai to collude with foreign powers.
Chan, Lam, Fung, and Yeung also fell victim to NSL charges, accused of conspiring with Cheung, Law, Lai, and the three companies by asking external forces to impose sanctions on mainland China or Hong Kong officials and governments.
With Chief Magistrate Peter Law presiding, the prosecution will continue its efforts to push for all cases to be transferred to the Court of First Instance, where committal proceedings will be handled. The highest penalty carried out by cases tried at the High Court is a life sentence.
Once the defendant’s court proceedings were dealt with on the Oct. 12 court date, they were dismissed by Magistrate Law, and the court began to address the absences of representatives from the three accused companies.
The three companies, although not providing any representatives, were said to “still exist” by the prosecution and thus will be asked to attend another court date, also set for Dec 28.
Apple Daily shut its doors after 500 Hong Kong police officers raided its headquarters and froze its assets on June 17. Last month, Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital Media Company, was forcibly liquidated after its board of directors and executives either were arrested for violating the NSL or quit amid pressure from and fear of it.
Authorities continue to deny any erosion of human rights in Hong Kong and instead defend the arrests, saying articles from Apple Daily crossed a line and endangered national security, although never specifying which ones or how they did so.
In the time Jimmy Lai has spent in prison, over 150 people have been arrested under the National Security Law and both of his media companies were folded. In addition, the Hong Kong government has further abandoned the “One Country, Two Systems” principle laid out in 1997, which was intended to maintain the country’s relative economic and administrative independence from China. The Beijing-imposed NSL is proving to play an integral role in the government’s pursuit of absolute control over its citizenry.