Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong media mogul and pro-democracy activist whose Apple Daily newspaper was raided by police earlier this year, has been denied bail after being charged with fraud. Lai, the owner of the Hong Kong tabloid and founder of Next Digital Media, will be on remand until his next court hearing in April next year.
Lai has been one of the strongest voices for democracy in Hong Kong, amid a growing crackdown on dissent. On Wednesday, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were jailed for their activism.
Lai and two Next Digital Media executives were charged Wednesday night with regularly reporting to police to report their previous arrests under national security law. The executives, COO Royston Chow Tat-kuen and Managing Director Wong Wai-keung, were released on bail Thursday.
The trio are accused of violating the terms of the land lease by misusing Next Digital’s office space at Tseung Kwan O for other purposes.
Lai was one of more than 10 people arrested on a day in August on suspicion of violating the national security law imposed by Beijing in June. The Apple Daily newsroom was also raided by hundreds of police officers. Lai was suspected of collusion with foreign forces and conspiracy to commit fraud, but police have not filed charges of foreign collusion.
Speaking after the arrest, Lai said the accusations were “fabricated” but could not go into details because legal proceedings were ongoing.
At least 31 people have been arrested under the national security law, which has been internationally condemned as being too broad and undefined, criminalizing benign acts of protest. The Hong Kong authorities have been accused of using national security and other laws to suppress dissent and freedom of expression. In an editorial Thursday, the Wall Street Journal said the accusation against Lai was that China sent a clear message that it would crush any opposition and that “any accusation will do.”
More than 10,000 people have also been arrested under other laws, for acts related to the mass protests.
Some have fled. Activist Nathan Law left Hong Kong for the UK, and Andy Li, who was also arrested under national security law, is among those detained on the mainland after being caught trying to escape to Taiwan by boat. On Wednesday, Hong Kong media reported that former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui and his family had moved to Denmark. Hui was arrested in August for his participation in a 2019 protest.
On Wednesday, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were jailed for their participation in an unauthorized demonstration in front of the police headquarters in June 2019. Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months, Chow to 10 and Lam to seven. . All three had pleaded guilty to non-violent acts of organizing, inciting or participating in the protest, but the judge said jail time was required to deter others.
High-profile pro-democracy activists are feared to spend much more time in jail than the sentences handed down on Wednesday. Chow, who turned 24 on Thursday, was also arrested under national security law on the same day as Lai, but has not been charged so far. Wong faces possible charges for a massacre vigil in Tiananmen Square and a protest in October 2019.
The jail terms drew international reproaches, including from UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and US President Nancy Pelosi.
“We are concerned about the prospect of China bringing additional charges against these activists, which could result in additional years in jail,” Pelosi said, adding that the US Congress was “seriously concerned” by allegations that Wong was mistreated. in prison, including several days in solitary confinement.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the trio “represents the collective will of the Hong Kong people for democracy.”
“It is very regrettable that the authority has once again repressed the judgment of the Hong Kong people,” Tsai said.
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