Pro-Democracy Media Mogul Jimmy Lai Back in Jail As Bail Revoked

2020-12-31
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Pro-Democracy Media Mogul Jimmy Lai Back in Jail As Bail Revoked Pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai arrives at the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong as prosecutors appeal an earlier court decision granting him bail, Dec. 31, 2020.
AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong on Thursday put pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai back behind bars after a decision to grant bail was overturned by the city's Court of Final Appeal.

Lai had been released on Dec. 23 to live under house arrest while awaiting trial under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party following a decision by the High Court.

But the decision was revoked by a panel of three Court of Final Appeal judges after a legal challenge from the department of justice.

Lai arrived at the court with his lawyer at around 9.30 a.m. local time on Thursday, and was immediately surrounded by journalists.

The prosecution argued that the threshold for granting bail to people accused of breaking the national security law is higher than for many other offenses, and that Hong Kong couldn't afford to see even one occasion where a defendant charged under the new law absconds or reoffends.

Lai's lawyers argued that the conditions attached to Lai's house arrest, which included a travel ban and a ban on talking to international media, had already covered that possibility.

Article 42 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong requires judges to deny bail in the absence of sufficient reason to believe that the defendant will not persist in the behavior that led to the prosecution.

The prosecution also argued that the presumption of innocence applied to "general criminal offenses" shouldn't apply under the law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by decree from the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee from July 1.

Chief justice Geoffrey Ma, his soon-to-be successor Andrew Cheung, and Roberto Ribeiro ruled that the lower court may have erred in its decision to grant Lai bail, remanding him in custody until a hearing scheduled for Feb. 1.

"We consider it reasonably arguable in the present case that the learned judge may have erred in his construction or application of [Article 42 of the law] in adopting his approach to the granting of bail," Ma told the court.

Decision prompts outcry

The decision prompted an outcry among Lai's supporters, including from Alexandra Wong, a white-haired woman detained for months in mainland China after turning out repeatedly to protests last year waving the British flag.

"Shame on this political persecution!" Wong shouted as Lai was escorted into a police van by Correction Services officers amid a crowd of around 50 supporters surrounded by ranks of uniformed police, who warned them not to violate rules on public gatherings linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lai's redetention came after an article in the official CCP newspaper, the People's Daily, hit out at the decision to grant him bail.

“It is unthinkable that Jimmy Lai, a notorious and extremely dangerous man, was the first person out of all of the suspects arrested under the national security law to be let out on bail," the paper said in an editorial.

"If they can let a architect of chaos ... like him loose, who will be next?" it said.

'Collusion with foreign powers'

Lai, who is awaiting trial on charges of fraud and "collusion with foreign powers" under the national security law, was released last week by High Court judge Alex Lee -- a judge handpicked by the government to adjudicate on national security cases -- on condition that he remain in his home and report to the local police station three times a week, and surrender his travel documents to the authorities.

He had earlier spent 20 days behind bars after bail was denied on Dec. 3 and again on Dec. 12. The bail conditions would also have barred him from giving any media interviews, posting on social media, publishing articles, and meeting with overseas officials.

He is accused under the National Security Law for Hong Kong of calling on "overseas institutions, organizations and personnel to impose sanctions or take other hostile actions against Hong Kong or China" between July 1 and Dec. 1, 2020.

Prosecutors have cited interviews he gave to foreign media organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fox News, as well as comments and accounts he followed on Twitter.

Some of the evidence cited by prosecutors predates the implementation of the new law, including a meeting Lai held with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 8, 2019 during a trip to Washington, before the national security law took effect.

China was among the world's biggest jailers of journalists in 2020, continuing a pattern of total state control over the media begun under CCP "core" leader Xi Jinping, according to press freedom campaign groups.

Reported by Lau Siu Fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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