Hong Kong media tycoon in court as prosecutors appeal bail

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has appeared in court as prosecutors asked the city’s top judges to send him back to detention after he was granted bail last week on fraud and national security-related charges

Hong Kong Jimmy Lai
Hong Kong Jimmy Lai

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai appeared in court Thursday as prosecutors asked the city’s top judges to send him back to detention after he was granted bail last week on fraud and national security-related charges.

If the prosecutors succeed, Lai will be detained until his next court appearance on April 16. Prior to being granted bail Lai had been held in custody for nearly three weeks.

He is among a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent months as authorities step up their crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

He was charged with fraud on Dec. 3 for allegedly violating the lease terms for office space for the Next Digital, the media company he founded. He was later charged again on Dec. 12 under the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security.

Lai, who was ordered to remain under house arrest as part of his bail conditions, left his home on Thursday morning in a black Mercedes. He entered the Court of Final Appeal without making any comments to supporters and media, many of whom swarmed the tycoon as he made his way into the courtroom.

Other bail conditions included surrendering his travel documents and a ban on meeting with foreign officials, publishing articles on any media, posting on social media and giving interviews.

His court appearance comes after Chinese state-owned newspaper People’s Daily posted a strongly worded commentary on Sunday criticizing a Hong Kong court for granting bail to Lai, stating that it “severely hurt Hong Kong’s rule of law.”

The People’s Daily said that it would not be difficult for Lai to abscond, and called him “notorious and extremely dangerous.” It also warned that China could take over the case, according to Article 55 of the national security law which states that China can “exercise jurisdiction over a case concerning offence endangering national security.”

Hong Kong’s judiciary on Tuesday uploaded a 19-page judgment on its website, laying out the reasons why High Court Judge Justice Alex Lee had granted Lai bail. Lee said that he was satisfied that there was no flight risk in Lai’s case, and noted that Lai was willing to have his movements monitored if it had been a feasible option.

On Tuesday, Lai resigned as chairman and executive director of Next Digital, which runs the Apple Daily newspaper, according to a filing made to the Hong Kong stock exchange. He did so “to spend more time dealing with this personal affairs” and confirmed that he had no disagreement with the board of directors, the filing said.

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