Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Media Magnate Jimmy Lai Behind Bars Over 'Fraud' Charge

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Media Magnate Jimmy Lai Behind Bars Over 'Fraud' Charge Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, is arrested by police officers at his home in Hong Kong, Aug. 10, 2020.

A court in Hong Kong on Thursday denied bail to pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai after charging him with "fraud," in a decision that will see Lai remain behind bars until his next court appearance on April 16.

The decision from West Kowloon Court chief magistrate Victor So came after prosecutors argued that Lai typically spent much of his time outside Hong Kong, and was therefore at risk of absconding.

Lai and two senior executives from his Next Digital media empire are accused of subletting parts of the company's headquarters to other companies owned by Lai, in breach of its 1995 lease with the Hong Kong Science Park.

However, administrative director Wong Wai-keung and chief operating officer Royston Chow were released on bail.

Prosecutors said further charges under Hong Kong's national security law could also be brought. Magistrate Chow is among the judges selected to handle cases under the law.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai and party member Lam Cheuk-ting were among Lai's supporters outside the court building on Thursday.

"It is unacceptable that a crime that is not that serious can be prosecuted and dealt with in this way," Lam told journalists.

University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung said it is generally pretty easy for defendants in fraud cases to make bail, so the refusal of bail to Lai was surprising.

"Generally speaking, if you have no criminal record, no record of absconding while on bail, and no evidence suggesting that you are likely leave Hong Kong, and you also have a fixed residence in Hong Kong, bail will generally be granted," Cheung told RFA.

He said the presumption of innocence in Hong Kong's common law system means that defendants who haven't been found guilty shouldn't be treated as if they have.

US, Taiwan offer support

In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement saying the U.S. is "appalled by the Hong Kong government’s political persecution of Hong Kong’s courageous pro-democracy advocates."

"The use of courts to silence peaceful dissent is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and underscores once again that the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest fear is the free speech and free thinking of its own people," Pompeo said.

"The United States will continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to champion the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and all those who suffer under the CCP’s repressive rule," he added.

The government of the democratic island of Taiwan expressed its support to Lai, as well as to democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, who were handed jail terms of up to 13-and-a-half months on Wednesday for their roles in last year's protest movement.

"Instead of fulfilling the government’s responsibility to protect the people’s rights, they have continued to seek retaliation, crack down on dissidents, and suppress social democracy," Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) spokesperson Chiu Chui-cheng said.

"Hong Kong is now under the dark shadow of a police state, where everyone is caught up in a pervading sense of fear and danger," he said.

"We call on the relevant authorities to stop their hounding of democracy advocates, to not to appoint themselves executioner of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong," Chiu said.

Chiu pledged that Taiwan stood ready to offer "necessary assistance" to anyone fleeing Hong Kong.

He said some 1,700 Hongkongers had used the island's fast-track assistance program from Hong Kong residents, which stops short of political asylum, and which often includes administrative help with basic necessities and to acquiring residency through other means, including study.

U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab said of the jailing on Wednesday of Wong, Chow, and Lam: "I urge the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to bring an end to their campaign to stifle opposition ... the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong must be upheld."

Going into exile

In Denmark, former Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui announced he had left the city for good.

“I hereby announce that I will go into exile and will withdraw my membership of Democratic Party of Hong Kong to leave Hong Kong," Hui said in a statement posted to his Facebook page, adding: "There are no words to describe my pain and it’s hard to hold back tears."

Hui, who is wanted by Hong Kong police on a number of charges linked to last year's protest movement, said his family was a key factor in his decision to leave.

"After the [national security] law was enacted, my family has been followed, surveilled, people have been stalking them," he told government broadcaster RTHK. "If I go back to Hong Kong, there [could] be very, very serious consequences."

But Hui said he regards himself as being in exile rather than as a migrant.

"Hong Kong is my only home," he wrote on Facebook.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has restricted travel to the United States by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members and their families, who had previously been allowed U.S. visitor visas of up to 10 years in duration, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the move was "an escalated form of political oppression ... by extreme anti- China forces."

Reported by Lu Xi, Lau Siu Fung and Raymond Chung for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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