A Hong Kong court on Thursday denied a further bail application, sending pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai back to a top-security jail to await trial.
Lai, who founded the Next Digital media conglomerate, faces two charges of “collusion with foreign powers” under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.
He was previously denied bail after the prosecution argued that he could reoffend.
Lai was rearrested on a separate “collusion” charge on Wednesday, and High Court Justice and national security judge Anthea Pang ordered him back behind bars.
“I am not satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to believe that he will not continue to commit acts that endanger national security,” Pang told the court, and said she would publish her reasoning at a later date.
She also declined to lift restrictions preventing the media from reporting the details of bail applications, saying that they could still report the results.
Unusually for Hong Kong, the public gallery section of the court was closed to members of the public, and only family members and journalists were allowed to attend the hearing in person.
Members of the public were allowed to watch a live feed of the proceedings, however, and had a non-transferable band placed on their wrist rather than the usual paper ticket.
Lai appeared calm on arrival at court in a Correctional Services Department vehicle on Thursday, and waved and made heart shapes with his hands to supporters outside the court as he left.
His family wept and hugged each other after the decision was announced.
Veteran democracy campaigner Alexandra Wong, who became a familiar sight during the 2019 protest movement waving the British flag, called out “Hang in there, Mr. Lai!” as he was taken back to Stanley Prison.
Wong, who was waving a yellow umbrella symbolizing demands for fully democratic elections, said the arrangements seemed to have been made to cause deliberate confusion.
“They took a very cavalier attitude to handing out passes, telling people when and where to wait, and what to do when they reached the head of the line,” Wong told RFA.
“Why did they make everything so different from regular court cases?” she said. “There was no consistency, and they kept moving the goalposts.”
Outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen was also among Lai’s supporters outside the High Court, while pro-China protesters shouted slogans calling Lai a “traitor,” and demanding “severe punishment.”
Thursday’s decision came after Lai’s legal team 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.
Police in Hong Kong rearrested Lai, who was already awaiting trial on another count of “collusion with foreign powers,” on suspicion of “conspiracy to assist offenders” and “conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
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.
Assistant also arrested
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.
All 12 speedboat fugitives 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 handed back to the Hong Kong authorities following a behind-closed-doors hearing.
Reported by Lau Siu Fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.