HONG KONG – Prominent Hong Kong democracy advocate and newspaper founder Jimmy Lai returned to court Monday to contest an attempt by the government to keep him in jail while facing charges under a sweeping new national security law.
No verdict was announced following the hearing and Lai remained in custody.
Lai was brought to the Court of Final Appeal in a prison van and entered through an inflatable tunnel as large numbers of journalists sought to capture the scene.
Lai was arrested last month in a sweep against pro-democracy activists accused over their involvement in 2019 anti-government protests. First refused bail, Lai was released on appeal, leading to attacks on Hong Kong's judiciary by the ruling Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily. He was returned to jail on New Year's Eve ahead of a new hearing.
Lai is charged with collusion with foreign forces, an offense under the national security law. The law states that a defendant will not get bail unless the judge is sure the suspected crime will not be committed again, a break with Hong Kong’s common law system inherited from Britain.
Hong Kong has jailed several pro-democracy activists in recent months, including student protest leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, for their involvement in the anti-government protests.
The national security law was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing after the city's local legislature was unable to overcome opposition to its enactment. Opponents see the law as a betrayal of China's pledge to maintain the city's legal, civil and human rights for 50 years after its handover from British colonial rule in 1997.
The law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs, effectively curbing most opposition political activity and subjecting private speech and social media postings to possible criminal punishment. Serious offenders could face up to life imprisonment.
Lai, 72, made his fortune in the retail clothing trade before branching out into media. He stepped down as publisher of the Apple Daily newspaper but the publication remains a popular forum for opposition views in a media landscape dominated by Beijing-backed outlets.