Lai’s first application was rejected by the Court of Final Appeal at the request of the Department of Justice. The pro-democracy tycoon has been in prison since 31 December. He still has a chance to be placed under house arrest if his defence team can prove that he poses no threat to national security.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Jimmy Lai yesterday applied against for bail. His request will be heard by Court of First Instance Judge Anthea Pang on 18 February.
The pro-democracy media tycoon was jailed in early December after charges of corruption and threatening national security were filed against him.
On 23 December, the Court of Appeal granted him bail and placed him under house arrest. On 31 December, the Court of Final Appeal reversed the decision after an application by the Hong Kong Department of Justice. On Tuesday Hong Kong’s top court denied his bail request.
The 73-year-old owner of the Apple Daily newspaper, which has been critical of both Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, is accused of "collusion" with foreign forces, an offence included in the national security law imposed by Beijing, based on interviews that Lai granted to foreign newspapers.
His charge sheet also includes the charge that he called on foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong leaders for their actions against the pro-democracy movement. His trial is scheduled to begin on 16 April. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
For the Court of Final Appeal, the Court of Appeal misinterpreted the provisions of Hong Kong’s draconian new national security law. In their view, the security law raises the threshold for bail, creating an exception to the presumption of innocence that is found in both Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
For the Court of Appeal judge, prosecutors had to prove that the billionaire posed a threat to national security; for the Court of Final Appeal, the court must assess whether the accused can flee or taint the evidence once released.
For University of Hong Kong legal scholar Simon Young, Jimmy Lai still has a chance of getting bail and remain under house arrest.
Speaking to RTHK, he said that although the judges of the Court of Final Appeal found an error on the part of the Court of Appeal judge, the new Court of First Instance judge could rule that the defendant does not pose a danger to national security. To achieve this, Lai’s defence must provide adequate guarantees.