In Hong Kong, a 'Crisis for the Judiciary'

Pro-democracy advocate Jimmy Lai back in prison after being released on bail
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2020 9:10 AM CST
Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Tycoon Sent Back Behind Bars
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, the most prominent person to be charged under Hong Kong's broad new national-security law, was released from prison last week on $1.3 million bail to await his trial in April. On Thursday, however, the city's highest court delivered some bad news to the 72-year-old Next Digital founder and pro-democracy advocate: He's heading back behind bars, reports the New York Times. Lai—who has been charged with fraud and national security violations that include colluding with "foreign forces" by calling for sanctions against Hong Kong—had his initial bail request denied earlier this month. An appeal last week reversed that decision, placing him under house arrest with rigid conditions, including a ban on social media use and communication with reporters. China didn't react well to that decision.

Per the Wall Street Journal, the state-controlled People's Daily newspaper blasted that ruling, saying Lai was "notorious and extremely dangerous" and could cause massive national-security issues. The matter was hauled before Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal, making it the first case regarding the city's controversial national-security law to be seen by the high court. The three-judge panel ruled that Lai would have to go back to jail until a Feb. 1 hearing that will review how bail should be handled under the national security law. Even though Hong Kong courts have long enjoyed relative independence from China, state-run outlets have hinted that a Chinese court could swoop in and take over the case, which is allowed under the new law. "This case is a critical turning point ... and a crisis for the judiciary in Hong Kong," an NYU law professor tells the WSJ. Lai denies all charges against him and says he's being targeted for standing up for free speech, per Bloomberg. (More Hong Kong stories.)

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