Pro-democracy Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been granted bail

A Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon detained under a new national security law was granted bail on Wednesday under strict conditions, including house arrest and a ban on social media posts.

Jimmy Lai, a vocal Beijing critic, is one of the highest-profile figures charged under a sweeping security law that China imposed on the financial hub over the summer in a bid to stamp out dissent.

He is accused of colluding with foreign countries by calling on overseas governments to sanction Hong Kong and China in response to its ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activism in the city.

Mr Lai, 73, was remanded into custody earlier this month by a dedicated national security judge sitting in a lower court.

But on Wednesday, his legal team appealed to the city’s High Court, where he was granted bail by a more senior judge picked to adjudicate national security cases.

Judge Alex Lee ordered Lai to pay a HK$10 million bond (A$1.7 million) and imposed a number of other conditions.

He must remain at home, surrender all travel documents and hold no meetings with foreign officials or foreign institutions deemed to be hostile to China.

Jimmy Lai, handcuffed, is escorted by prison guards to board a Correctional Services Department vehicle to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on 12 December.

Sipa USA Geovien So / SOPA Images/Sipa US

Mr Lai was also banned from posting on social media, issuing statements or speaking to the media.

Court rules restrict the press from detailing legal arguments made by prosecutors and the defence during a bail hearing.

Mr Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper has previously reported that the bulk of the prosecution’s case against him revolves around tweets and interviews he has given to the media since the national security law was imposed in late June.

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Pro-democracy Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai denied bail after being charged with fraud

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was remanded into custody on Thursday after being charged with fraud, the latest in a string of prosecutions brought against high-profile Beijing critics and democracy campaigners.

Mr Lai, 73, is the owner of Hong Kong’s best-selling Apple Daily, a popular tabloid that is unashamedly pro-democracy and fiercely critical of authorities.

He and two of the firm’s executives – Royston Chow and Wong Wai-keung – face fraud charges that court documents say are related to the paper’s offices allegedly being used for purposes not permitted by the building’s lease. 

Police raided Apple Daily’s headquarters in August and arrested a string of senior company figures, including Mr Lai, on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces” under a vaguely worded new national security law that Beijing imposed on the city.

None has so far been charged with any national security breaches.

But Victor So, the magistrate overseeing Thursday’s hearing, is from a group of judges selected by Hong Kong’s chief executive to try such cases.

Mr So denied Mr Lai bail but granted it to Mr Wong and Mr Chow, setting the next court date for April. 

The decision means Mr Lai, who was later photographed arriving at prison with his hands cuffed, faces months behind bars as police continue their investigation. 

China’s clampdown on Hong Kong has dramatically accelerated since it imposed its sweeping security law in June, with opposition politicians disqualified and dozens of activists charged or investigated.

On Wednesday, three prominent young democracy campaigners – including Joshua Wong – were jailed for taking part in last year’s democracy protests.

Mr Lai is also being prosecuted for his alleged part in those rallies in a separate prosecution.

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Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai charged with fraud

The move comes a day after a court sentenced prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong to more than 13 months in prison over an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019, the toughest sentence for an opposition figure this year.

Jailed: Hong Kong activists, from right, Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow.Credit:AP

They also jailed Wong’s colleagues Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam for 10 and seven months, respectively. Chow speaks fluent Japanese and is well-known in Japan, prompting the Japanese government to speak out against the sentencing.

“Japan increasingly has grave concerns about the recent Hong Kong situation such as sentences against three including Agnes Chow,” chief government spokesman Katsunobu told a regular news conference on Thursday.

“We have conveyed our concerns to China about Hong Kong at various opportunities,” he said.

Beijing responded to 15 months of protests in Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law to crack down on dissent, which prompted more public opposition.


The crackdown has prompted accusations Beijing is violating the autonomy it promised when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997. It also has triggered warnings the ruling Communist Party is damaging Hong Kong’s appeal as a global business centre and one of Asia’s most dynamic cities.

Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten criticised the activist’s sentencing, saying in a statement that it was “another grim example of China’s determination to put Hong Kong in handcuffs”.

Claudia Mo, a former HK pro-democracy legislator, called the sentences “very saddening, but not unexpected.”

“All these judicial prosecutions amount to persecution of our young,” The New York Times quoted her as saying. “They’re using Joshua Wong as an iconic figure in particular to issue this chilling message.”

AP, Reuters

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Hong Kong police arrest media tycoon Jimmy Lai and raid Apple Daily offices

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