Hong Kong’s High Court has denied another bail application by media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the city’s national security law.
The decision came on Thursday after the Court of Final Appeal ruled last week that a lower court’s decision last year to grant him bail applied “an erroneous line of reasoning”, but allowed Lai’s team to make a new application to the High Court.
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The High Court said it would publish its reasons for rejecting Thursday’s application at a later date.
Under the new law, the onus is on the defendant to prove 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.
Lai has been in custody since December 3, except for about a week last year when he was released before his bail was appealed by the prosecutors and subsequently overturned.
He was arrested in August when about 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid newspaper.
The tabloid and other media reported on Wednesday that Lai, while in jail, had been arrested again on suspicion of assisting one of 12 fugitive Hong Kongers China captured at sea last year.
“Jimmy Lai in China’s eyes is pretty much the public enemy number one – he is from the mainland, so for them this is personal,” said Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Hong Kong.
“This will be a blow to many of his supporters who feel that [he is] the victim of a political vendetta,” said Brown.
Crushing dissent and eroding freedom
Beijing imposed the national security law on the former British colony last June after months of pro-democracy against what many Hong Kongers saw as China’s encroachment on the self-governing island’s freedoms.
The law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Critics say it is aimed at crushing dissent and erodes freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub, which was returned to Chinese control in 1997. Its supporters say it restores stability after months of unrest.
Prosecutors have accused Lai of breaching the law over statements he made on July 30 and August 18, in which they allege he requested foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.
Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting with officials, including former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
Lai stepped down last year as chairman of Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.