Jimmy Lai to remain in prison
The Court of Final Appeal has decided to reserve judgement before ruling on Lai’s bail application. Cardinal Zen lined up for the hearing. Prosecutors argue against bail on national security grounds. Lai’s defence team urges the court to uphold the presumption of innocence. Applications to move to the UK have started; 7,000 people have already fled because of the repression.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Jimmy Lai has been remanded in custody again. The Court of Final Appeal is reserving judgement today before deciding on his bail application for release.
On 23 December 2020, High Court granted Lai bail placing him under house arrest. On 31 December 2020, the Court of Final Appeal ordered him back to prison after the government's appeal to his release on bail.
Around 50 press members and more than a hundred citizens, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, queued up to observe the trial since early hours. Foreign diplomats were not allowed inside.
The 73-year-old owner of the Apple Daily newspaper, who has criticised Hong Kong and mainland political leaders, has been accused of "collusion" with foreign forces, an offence introduced by a national security law imposed by Beijing.
The prosecution’s case is based on interviews Lai granted to foreign newspapers. He is also charged for allegedly calling on foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong leaders for their actions against the pro-democracy movement.
The media magnate was taken into custody on 3 December on charges of fraud and held for a while in a maximum security prison with gangsters and bosses of the local underworld. The trial is scheduled to begin on 16 April; if convicted, Lai could get life imprisonment.
Three of the five judges on the Court of Final Appeal were selected by Chief Executive Carrie Lam. For the prosecution, Lai’s offences threaten national security and for this reason, he should not get bail.
Lai's lawyer has dismissed the argument, noting that the court’s decision must take into account general principles such as the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty.
According to the High Court, bail was justified because Lai just expressed his opinions and made no demands on foreign governments; there were also valid reasons to believe that he would not violate the terms of his release.
Bail included the obligation to stay at his residence, as well as a ban on giving interviews, using social media and meeting foreign political and diplomatic officials.
The adoption of the security law in June dealt a severe blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, whose scope for free action as guaranteed under the territory’s Basic Law and agreements with the United Kingdom is shrinking more and more.
The United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China in 1997. The latter pledged to maintain the territory’s broad autonomy until 2047 on the basis of the principle "one country, two systems".
To help Hong Kong citizens who fear losing their democratic freedoms, the British government announced yesterday that people with British National Overseas (BNO) status can come live and work in Britain.
Around 2.9 million Hong Kongers with BNO status holders are believed to be eligible to apply for the visa, with a further 2.3 million eligible dependants. Since July 2020, some 7,000 have already moved to the United Kingdom.
UK authorities predict up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year, with the number rising to as many as 322,000 over five years. China called the British move a gross interference in its internal affairs.