Jimmy Lai back in prison, treated like a murderer

The Court of Final Appeal rescinded his bail. Accused of violating the security law and fraud, Lai was released on 23 December by a High Court judge. For Hong Kong’s Department of Justice, the threshold for national security violations is the same as in murder cases. Meanwhile, pressures from mainland China continue.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Jimmy Lai has been remanded into custody again. The Court of Final Appeal today overturned a High Court ruling that had ordered his release on 23 December, and placed him under house arrest. The Appeal Committee will hear the case again on 1 February.

The 73-year-old owner of the Apple Daily newspaper, which has strongly criticised Hong Kong and Chinese leaders, has been accused of "collusion" with foreign forces, am offence included in mainland China’s new  national security law.

Prosecutors charged Lai over interviews he granted to foreign newspapers. He has also been targeted for allegedly calling on foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong leaders for their actions against the pro-democracy movement.

The media magnate was first taken into custody on 3 December on fraud charges. He spent part of the following 20 days in a maximum security prison, which holds local gangsters and crime bosses.

His trial is set to start on April 16. If found guilty, he faces life in prison.

For the judges of the Court of Final Appeal, all picked by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the High Court erred in granting bail.

Instead, they accepted the arguments of Hong Kong’s Department of Justice, which claims that release from prison is not justified in cases of national security, which are as serious as murder cases.

The lawyers representing the pro-democracy magnate argued that the Court of Appeal has no jurisdiction to change the High Court's decision.

According to High Court Judge Alex Lee, bail was justified because Lai expressed opinions and did not request anything from foreign governments; in addition, there are no valid reasons to believe that he would violate the terms of his release.

Under the release order, Lai was required to stay at his home, and could not give interviews, nor use social media or meet foreign officials.

Yesterday, local lawyers' associations spoke out against the pressures Beijing is putting on the legal process, which in their view is undermining Lai's right to a fair trial.

Chinese state media slammed the High Court ruling, claiming that Article 55 of the security law provides the legal basis for Lai to be deported to mainland China for trial.

In an op-ed last Sunday, the People's Daily called Lai an “extremely dangerous” person, arguing that his release undermines the rule of law in Hong Kong.

(Reuters photo)