Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai sentenced to over five years on fraud charges

Hong Kong media magnate and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to five years and nine months imprisonment on December 10 for breaching the former news publication’s lease agreement. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the ongoing legal harassment of Jimmy Lai and former Apple Daily staff and urges the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to overturn the conviction immediately.

Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai (not pictured) arrives in a correctional services van at the high court in Hong Kong on December 1, 2022, for the start of his national security trial. Credit: Isaac Lawrence / AFP

Following his October 25 conviction, Jimmy Lai was sentenced to five years and nine months on charges of fraud. Judge Stanley Chan of Hong Kong’s district court ruled that through the alleged operation and concealment of Dico Consultants Limited’s (Dico) operations from the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park Corporation (HKSTP), Jimmy Lai and former Next Digital administrative director Wong Wai-keung had criminally breached the former news outlet’s lease agreement.

Lai faces disqualification from the directorship of any company for eight years and fines of HKD 2,000,000 (approx. USD 256,846), an estimation of lost HKSTP rental income from Apple Daily from 1998 to 2020. Due to ongoing charges under Hong Kong’s national security law, Jimmy Lai and Next Digital’s assets have been frozen, forcing the 2021 closure of the outlet.

Lai’s trial for four charges under the national security law began on December 1 but was adjourned until December 13 due to intervention from Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, seeking a ruling from Beijing authorities on whether theApple Daily founder could be represented by barrister and United Kingdom national Timothy Owen.

Hong Kong’s repressive national security law criminalises “separatism, subversion of state power, terrorism and interference”, and was enacted in response to pro-democracy protests that escalated in mid-2019. The law has wide-reaching implications for Hong Kong based journalists, acting as a censor for any reports that contradict the message of Chinese authorities.

A new IFJ report, The Story That Won’t Be Silenced: Hong Kong Freedom of Expression Report, details the effective destruction of civil liberties and press freedom since the introduction of the national security law in 2020 and documents the survival stories of journalists, media practitioners and news outlets reporting on Hong Kong in the city and abroad.

The IFJ said:“The Hong Kong authorities must immediately end the protracted legal persecution of Jimmy and withdraw all charges against him. As Lai’s unjust trial under the draconian national security law commences, the IFJ calls on governments, civil society, and media organisations worldwide to condemn the destruction of independent media in Hong Kong and to support journalists and media workers fleeing from an increasingly perilous working environment.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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