Police in Hong Kong have rearrested jailed pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is currently awaiting trial for “collusion with foreign powers” under a draconian national security law, this time on suspicion of aiding an activist who tried to flee to democratic Taiwan by speedboat.
Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper reported that he was accused of helping Andy Li, who was among 12 fugitives to board the boat on Aug. 23, 2020.
All were later detained en route by the China Coast Guard, in an operation believed to be supported by Hong Kong government aircraft, and 10 were handed jail terms for their involvement in an “illegal border crossing.”
Two who were under 18 at the time of their arrest were returned to Hong Kong following a behind-closed-doors hearing.
Lai, who founded the Next Digital media conglomerate, was arrested by police in maximum-security Stanley Prison, on the southernmost tip of Hong Kong Island, and charged with “conspiracy to assist offenders” and “conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
A 29-year-old legal assistant, Chan Tze-wah, was also arrested on the same charges, the second of which is under the National Security Law for Hong Kong imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.
At a hearing in West Kowloon Magistrates Court on Wednesday, prosecutors said Chan had colluded with media tycoon Jimmy Lai, activist Andy Li, and others in requesting “a foreign country or an external institution, organisation or individual to impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People’s Republic of China.”
Chan also stands accused of colluding with Lai in aiding Li to flee to Taiwan, “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse and with intent to impede his apprehension or prosecution.”
Like others awaiting trial under the national security law, Chan was remanded in custody ahead of his next hearing on April 14.
Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu told RFA that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is looking to make an example of Lai, with successive waves of charges against him.
“I think everyone expects that the CCP will prosecute him time and time again on different charges, leaving him in an extremely unstable state, and facing long-term imprisonment and successive bouts of interrogation,” Sang said.
“They could use this tactic on other, younger people in prison,” he said. “I think we are only going to see this persecution intensify, rather than easing off.”
Lai also appeared at the West Kowloon court on Wednesday morning to reapply for bail.
‘Everyone knows why’
Veteran rights activist and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said the reason for the timing of Lai’s rearrest appeared clear to many in Hong Kong.
“Everyone knows why they chose this time, because [Lai] was about to be released on bail,” Lee told RFA.
“All of these incidents took place a while ago now, so why would they do this now, when he was about to be released?” he said.
“It feels as if they did it deliberately to prevent his getting out on bail.”
Lai’s legal team have made repeated challenges to his continued detention, and he was briefly released on bail after a successful appeal at the High Court, before the city’s Court of Final Appeal ruled that the High Court was wrong to let him out of custody.
Lai has another bail hearing at the High Court on Thursday.
Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Lai has been subjected to continual harassment by the authorities.
“[RSF] condemns the repeated judicial harassment of [an] RSF Press Freedom Award laureate, who faces a possible life sentence. #FreeJimmyLai,” it said via its Twitter account.
Reported by Lau Siu Fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.