On December 28, Hong Kong’s prosecutors placed a new charge against Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, accusing the jailed media tycoon of breaking the law which forbids anyone to “print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications” between April 2019 and June 24, 2021.
Hong Kong prosecutors allege that the publications could "bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection" against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, Reuters reported.
The other six people – former CEO of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily, Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s former editor-in-chief Ryan Law, former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, former executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, ex-English edition editor Fung Wai-kong, and ex-editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee – were also pressed with the same charge.
The group of seven people appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on December 28 for a pre-trial hearing as they had previously been accused of conspiring to collude with foreign powers under the National Security Law, a charge that carries the maximum sentence to life.
The 74-year-old founder, who has been vocal in his criticism on Beijing’s encroachment of Hong Kong’s freedom, is currently serving sentences for his involvement in “unauthorised” assemblies, including the Tiananmen Massacre vigil on June 4, 2020, which was banned in Hong Kong by the police for the first time in three decades citing Covid-19 concerns.
The other six currently remain in custody. All seven had their cases adjourned on December 28 to February 24, 2022.
The Hong Kong government has targeted Next Digital and the group’s flagship newspaper Apple Daily following the imposition of the National Security Law. Apple Daily was forced to close on June 24 after the authorities raided its newsroom, froze the company’s assets, and launched investigation into the company as well as its executives and senior staff. At the same time, the authorities have also moved to commence the winding up of Next Digital.
The IFJ said, “Journalists and members of independent media play a vital role in informing the public and holding the government, as well as those in power, accountable. Their journalism should never be targeted or framed as sedition. The IFJ protests against the Hong Kong government’s campaign that has seriously undermined freedom of the press which is enshrined in the Basic Law and urges the authorities to drop the arbitrary charges against Lai and his six colleagues.”