Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has been returned to jail following the city’s highest court ruling in favour of prosecutors’ request for leave to appeal his restrictive bail order.
The ruling will keep 76-year-old Lai in jail until February at the earliest, despite him not being accused of a violent crime or considered a flight risk.
Lai, initially jailed on 3 December, was released under house arrest by the high court 20 days later on HK$10m bail ($1,300,000). He was ordered not to speak publicly or use social media.
A panel of three CFA judges including the outgoing chief justice, Geoffrey Ma, sided with prosecutors, remanding Lai until the next scheduled court hearing on 1 February.
Local media reported that the ruling was interpreted based on article 42 in the territory’s new national security law, removing the presumption of bail for defendants. The article states: “No bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The CFA made no ruling on the law, stating only that it would hear the prosecution’s case against Lai and return him to the status quo, where he is expected to be jailed on remand.
Lai currently faces trial for alleged foreign collusion under the new national security law. He also faces charges of fraud and protesting. The national security charges surround comments he made in interviews with members of the international press, as well as statements he posted on social media in opposition to the Chinese government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Alongside Lai, two Next Digital Media executives were charged with fraud, based on allegations that the trio breached land-lease terms by misappropriating Next Digital office space in Tseung Kwan O.
Following 20 days on remand, the high court found Lai’s defense had merit and did not consider him to be a flight risk under the restrictions imposed by the court. Judge Alex Lee also stated the comments for which Lai was being with appear to simply be comments and criticisms.
Lee’s ruling riled up Chinese state media and prosecutors, labeling it “inconceivable,” suggesting the central government be given jurisdiction of the case, transferring Lai to the mainland.
“Lai is notorious and extremely dangerous, yet he became the first suspect to be granted bail after being arrested for violating the national security law, which is inconceivable,” said an editorial in the People’s Daily, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda arm. “After the implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong, if people like Lai who stir up trouble in Hong Kong can be bailed out, who else wouldn’t be?”\
More than 30 people have been arrested under the new national security law, introduced in June, most for non-violent political crimes. Four have been charged, including Lai, who is the only one to be granted bail.