Lai, the founder of media institution Next Digital, which manages pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, is known for regularly criticising the Hong Kong government and China’s authoritarian rule. He was earlier arrested under the Hong Kong’s controversial national security law in August, although is yet to be charged for these offences. Two other executives of Next Digital, director Royston Chow and administrative director Wong Wai-keung, were charged alongside Lai but granted bail of HK$200,000 (USD 25,800) and HK$100,000 (USD12,900) respectively.
The three men are accused of allegedly retaining HK$20 million (USD 2,580,000) in rent since 1995 on a separate business, contravening leasing terms with Hong Kong Science Park. Each faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak of the West Kowloon Courts in Hong Kong cited dual risks of flight and a repeat of the offence as reasons for the rejection of Lai’s bail appeal. He is now expected to remain in jail until a court hearing on April 16, 2021.
Lai has had numerous previous arrests. On August 10 he was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed national security law. The Apple Daily office was also raided at that time. On June 11, he was arrested on incitement charges relating to the Tiananmen commemoration vigil. On April 18, he was arrested and charged for his role in the unlawful assembly during the Hong Kong protests in 2019.On October 15, 14 police officials visited Lai’s Kwung Tong office and confiscated documents, departing before lawyers had time to arrive.
On December 2, the day before Lai’s arrest, Joshua Wong, a high profile student activist was sentenced to 13 and a half months in jail for allegedly organising and inciting others to attend an unlawful assembly outside police headquarters in June 2019, in protest of Hong Kong’s extradition bill. Fellow activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were also sentenced to ten and seven months respectively alongside Wong.
Hong Kong’s national security law, which was passed in June 2020, criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion and is criticised for curtailing rights to freedom of speech and protest.
The IFJ said:“Jimmy Lai is a high-profile target of the Hong Kong authorities and it is clear the ongoing intimidation and his repeated arrests is aimed at sending a clear and decisive message to all media to step back and toe the Beijing line. The IFJ strongly condemns his repeated arrests and calls for the authorities to respect Hong Kong’s constitutional commitment to press freedom. The IFJ urges Hong Kong police to release Lai and cease biased investigation towards pro-democracy media institutions.”