Prison for Jimmy Lai as judge denies bail
The Apple Daily entrepreneur and publisher will remain in jail until April 16. He is accused of fraud and faces 14 years in prison. But the prosecutor is investigating possible violations of the security law, for which he faces life imprisonment. The judge who denied him bail, Victor So, is one of the judges chosen by the chief executive to oversee trials related to the security law.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Businessman and democracy activist Jimmy Lai will spend Christmas in prison. He was arrested this morning and Judge Victor So Wai-tak denied him bail because Lai, having so many contacts abroad, could flee. Lai is the founder of Next Digital, a publishing company that produces the Apple Daily, a newspaper known for its unscrupulousness towards the leadership of Beijing and Hong Kong.
Last night Lai and two of his Next Digital associates, Royston Chow Tat-kuen, and Wong Wai-keung, were charged with fraud. Presenting himself at West Kowloon Court this morning, the judge ordered that Lai be held in custody without bail until trial on April 16, and bail for Chow and Wong.
The three had already been arrested last August in a spectacular police operation, with the invasion of the Apple Daily headquarters by over 200 policemen looking for "evidence" of violations of the new security law. Lai, who does not hide his criticisms of the Chinese government and defends democracy in Hong Kong, is suspected of "collusion with foreign forces to the detriment of the motherland".
At the time all three were released on bail, with the prosecutor's office promising to study mountains of confiscated papers to clarify the charge.
Now the accusation is of misuse of the Next Digital offices, given that some premises are used by a branch of the Lai publishing empire. The prosecutor says that although the allegations for now are of fraud, there are still chances that the three will be accused of violating national security law. Victor So himself, the judge who denied Lai bail, is one of six magistrates chosen by Carrie Lam, the chief executive, to oversee national security trials.
In the event of a conviction for fraud, Lai faces up to 14 years in prison; in the case of a crime against national security, he faces life imprisonment.
The security law demanded by Beijing for the territory was passed at the end of June. The law prohibits and punishes acts and activities of secession, subversion, terrorism and collaboration with foreign forces that endanger national security.
Carrie Lam maintains that the law is necessary to restore order to Hong Kong after a year of pro-democracy demonstrations and vandalism. But for many observers it is the tool with which Beijing seeks to apply a repressive style similar to the continent.
Three young pro-democracy leaders, Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow, were sentenced yesterday. Up to now, the Hong Kong police have arrested over 10 thousand people, mostly young people, for crimes related to pro-democracy demonstrations.
Jimmy Lai, 73, came to Hong Kong from China when he was 12. He first worked in the field of packaging, then in the publishing sector. He converted to the Catholic Church in 1997, baptized by the then bishop of Hong Kong, Card. Joseph Zen.