Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong’s most combative media tycoon and the highest-profile figure arrested under the city’s new security law, was acquitted of a charge of intimidating a reporter from a rival tabloid on Thursday.
The not-guilty verdict is related to a 2017 clash with a reporter from Oriental Daily News, a newspaper viewed as pro-Beijing that is a fierce competitor of Lai’s Apple Daily.
The fracas took place during an annual candlelight vigil to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Mr. Lai had denied the charge of “criminal intimidation” over the incident.
Last month police detained the democracy activist in a separate case under the controversial new security law. He is also facing several other charges over last year’s anti-government protests.
The 71-year-old’s arrest in August sparked global condemnation of the escalating crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
He was led in handcuffs through his newsroom as more than 200 police officers raided the building in extraordinary scenes streamed live by his Apple Daily newspaper.
While the arrest shocked many in Hong Kong, it was welcomed by Chinese state media where he is denounced as a traitor.
The Global Times said Apple Daily had been “instigating hatred, spreading rumours and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years”.
Apple Daily, which started off as a local tabloid grew into a standard bearer for the city’s pro-democracy movement, unafraid to challenge leaders in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Mr. Lai is one of the only tycoons in the territory who is openly critical of Beijing and he was a prominent supporter of the months-long reform protests that swept Hong Kong last year.
In June, when the national security law was imposed on the city by Beijing, Mr. Lai told the BBC it “spells the death knell for Hong Kong”.
Less than two months later he became the highest-profile figure to be detained under the legislation.
Speaking after his release on bail in August, Mr. Lai said he believed his arrest was “just the beginning”.
There will be “a long fight” ahead for Hong Kong’s freedoms, he said.
Mr. Lai has been arrested several times since February.
In April he was among 15 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers arrested over protests last year.
Then in August Mr. Lai was charged with participating in June’s Tiananmen vigil, along with at least 23 others. The annual gathering was banned in Hong Kong for the first time, with authorities citing coronavirus fears.
The most dramatic arrest came a few days later on August 10 in the largest police operation since the security law was passed.
Mr. Lai and nine other activists, including Agnes Chow, were detained over allegations including “collusion with foreign forces”.
If charged and convicted under the security law they could face up to life in jail. (Source: BBC)