Hong Kong appeals judges rule Jimmy Lai to stay in prison
The democracy icon and tycoon will still be able to submit a fresh appeal to the High Court. The presumption of innocence does not apply in cases of threat to national security. Basic Law suspended. “Foreign judges” were absent from the panel of judges.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Democracy icon and tycoon Jimmy Lai must remain in prison; he may, however, apply for bail again to the High Court.
This is what the Final Court of Appeal ruled today on the release of the activist and media mogul.
On 23 December the High Court ordered his release on bail, granting him house arrest. At the request of the Justice Department, an intermediate court suspended the decision on 31 December.
The 73-year-old owner of the Apple Daily newspaper - a critical voice of the city and Beijing leadership - is accused of "collusion" with foreign forces, a crime foreseen under the national security law wanted by the Chinese leadership.
The prosecution formulated the charge on the basis of interviews Lai granted to newspapers from other countries. His alleged call on foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong leaders for their actions against the democratic movement is also targeted. The trial is scheduled to begin on April 16: he faces life imprisonment.
For the five judges of the Court of Final Appeal, the High Court misinterpreted the draconian security provision. According to them, it imposes stricter thresholds for granting bail: an exception to general principles such as the presumption of innocence, included in the Basic Law (the city's mini-constitution) and in the International Charter on Civil and Political Rights.
For the High Court, it was up to the investigators to prove that the billionaire posed a threat to national security; for the Court of Appeal, it is the judge who must assess whether the accused can escape or pollute the evidence once released.
The Final Court of Appeal is the highest judicial body in the city. Several observers point out that the panel that judged Lai lacked "foreign judges" (usually citizens of Great Britain or the Commonwealth): a rare case for the laws of the former British colony.
Lai’s family and about thirty supporters, including Card. Joseph Zen were present at the pronouncement of the sentence. Some European and Canadian diplomats also attended.