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Hong Kong media tycoon denied bail after being charged under new national security law

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the law “makes a mockery of justice”.

Jimmy Lai before appearing in court in Hong Kong earlier today.
Jimmy Lai before appearing in court in Hong Kong earlier today.
Image: Kin Cheung

JIMMY LAI, A 73-year-old Hong Kong media tycoon and advocate for democracy, has been denied bail after being charged yesterday under the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s new national security law.

Lai faces a charge of collusion with foreign elements to endanger national security, apparently for tweets he made and interviews or commentaries he gave to foreign media.

The Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid owned by Lai, said he is accused of asking a foreign country, organisation or individual to impose sanctions or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.

His case was adjourned until 16 April at the request of prosecutors, who said police needed time to review more than 1,000 tweets and comments made on his Twitter account, the Apple Daily reported.

The newspaper said his charge sheet listed several foreign politicians who followed Lai on Twitter and cited commentaries he wrote and interviews he did with foreign media.

Lai, who was already being held on other fraud charges after police raided his media company, could be seen handcuffed to a chain around his waist as guards led him to a van to go from prison to court. 

Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong earlier this year after stormy protests in 2019 that started over an extradition bill and expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the former British colony.

The new law outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs.

It has constricted free speech in the city, and democracy activists see it as a way to suppress dissent.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted this morning that the security law “makes a mockery of justice”.

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He called for Lai’s release, saying his only crime is speaking the truth about China’s authoritarian Communist Party government.

Lai, the highest-profile person charged under the security law, has also been charged with taking part in unauthorised protests and with fraud over alleged violations of office lease terms.

He has advocated for other countries to take a harsher stance on China, and met with Pompeo and vice president Mike Pence in the US last year to discuss the extradition bill, which the Hong Kong government eventually withdrew.

Pence also tweeted about Lai, saying the charges against him are “an affront to freedom loving people around everywhere”.

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