02/02/2021, 09.51
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Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai still in prison. Blinken promises refuge to dissidents

The new US Secretary of State accuses Beijing of violating its commitments for the territory’s autonomy. The prosecutor wants to deny bail to the magnate: the doubts of the Court of Appeal. Criticism of Carrie Lam for having met the territory’s highest judge shortly before the hearing.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The United States must give refuge to dissidents who contest the repression underway in the former British colony, says the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He was speaking yesterday immediately after democracy activist and tycoon Jimmy Lai was returned to prison.

In his first interview as the head of US diplomacy, Blinken condemned the security law, a tool Beijing uses to silence Hong Kong's democratic front. He pointed out that China has "shamefully" violated its commitments with Great Britain. London returned the city to the Chinese in 1997; Beijing agreed to recognize a broad autonomy to the city until 2047 in compliance with the principle "one country, two systems".

Yesterday the Final Court of Appeal took some time to decide on the request for bail presented by Lai. On December 23, the High Court had ordered his release on bail, granting him house arrest. An intermediate court overturned the decision on December 31 at the request of the Justice Department.

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 under the national security law. The prosecution formulated the charges based on the interviews that 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 singled out. The trial is scheduled to begin on April 16: he faces life imprisonment.

Three of the five appellate judges expressed reservations about the prosecution's position that crimes that threaten national security do not involve the granting of bail. As noted by Lai's lawyer, general principles such as the presumption of innocence and the right to freedom in assessing the case must be taken into account, so it is up to the investigators to prove that the billionaire could flee or tamper with evidence once released.

The Final Court of Appeal is under pressure for Lai's trial. Carrie Lam, pro-Beijing chief of the city executive, came under fire from her critics after meeting with the president of the court a few days before yesterday’s hearing. Lam defended herself by saying that she did not interfere in any case and that it is her prerogative to speak with the highest judicial authority of the city.

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