Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was arrested in August after a massive police raid on the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper, was reportedly arrested again on Wednesday and charged with helping 12 people flee from Hong Kong to Taiwan.
Lai, 72, was arrested in August on charges of “colluding with foreign forces,” which is a criminal offense under the “national security” law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) portrays Lai as a saboteur working with the United States and other foreign interests to destabilize Hong Kong’s government. At the time of his arrest, he was already facing charges for participating in the massive 2019 Hong Kong protests and illegally attending a Tiananmen Square vigil.
According to Apple Daily, the new charges against Lai accused him of helping 12 fugitives escape from Hong Kong by boat last summer, allegedly in a bid to find refuge in Taiwan. The escapees were caught by the Chinese Coast Guard and held in a mainland prison until they went on trial in December, at which time the ten adult detainees were given jail terms for illegally crossing the border.
At least one of the ten fugitives, 30-year-old democracy activist Andy Li, was charged under the same national security law that has been invoked against Jimmy Lai. Li fled Hong Kong two weeks after he was arrested for participating in the protests and collaborating with the British government. Fearing he would be sentenced to life in prison, he unsuccessfully appealed to the British consulate for protection.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) said Lai was re-arrested in Stanley Prison on charges of “conspiracy to assist an offender” and “conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” Originally facing over a decade in prison, Lai could face life in prison if convicted on those charges.
Lai’s legal assistant Chan Tsz-wah was slapped with similar charges and portrayed in a Kowloon courtroom as part of a vast conspiracy against Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China:
Prosecutors said Chan conspired with Lai, the media tycoon’s right-hand man Mark Simon, Li, Lau Cho-dik, and others “to request a foreign country or an institution, organisation or individual outside the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau … to impose sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities against [Hong Kong] or People’s Republic of China”.
The offence was said to have taken place between last July and Monday, the day Chan was arrested. Simon and Lau are still wanted in connection with the case.
Chan, who was among nine people arrested last October on suspicion of helping the fugitives flee to Taiwan, was also charged with one count of “conspiracy to assist an offender” in connection with Li’s escape attempt.
The SCMP noted the judge presiding over the case, Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak, was “hand-picked by the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to handle national security proceedings.” The judge denied Chan’s request for bail, even though bail was granted routinely for non-violent offenses in Hong Kong before the national security law. Lai was denied bail last week.
Reuters noted Lai is the “most high-profile person to be charged under the new security law,” which may not bode well for him in court.