A Hong Kong court yesterday granted a HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) bail to tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the highest profile pro-democracy advocate charged under the territory’s National Security Law, on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.
Lai is one of Hong Kong’s most ardent Beijing critics, while his Next Media Group is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedom. He was arrested in August when about 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid.
Lai, 73, who has been in custody since Dec. 3, is also charged with fraud related to the lease of a building that houses the Apple Daily.
The national security legislation — which punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail — has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the territory.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have said that the legislation is necessary to plug gaping holes in national security defenses exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the territory last year.
Under the new law, the onus is on the defendant to prove that they would not be a national security threat if released on bail. Under Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system the onus has traditionally been on the prosecution to prove its case.
Under his bail terms, Lai is not allowed to meet with foreign officials, give any interviews, publish any articles or post on social media, and must remain at home and surrender his travel documents.
The tycoon has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting with officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
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