Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has been granted bail by the city’s high court but placed under effective house arrest ahead of a high-profile national-security trial in April.
The surprise ruling by the court comes nearly three weeks after Lai was remanded in custody over fraud and national security-related charges.
The pro-democracy mogul was ordered to pay a HK$10m (£960,000) bond on Wednesday afternoon and was ordered to surrender all travel documents.
He is also banned from speaking to the press, making public statements, using social media, meeting foreign officials and “colluding with foreign forces”, local media reported.
Lai had been in jail since December 03, when he was charged with fraud and denied bail. Ten days later, he was denied bail again, on charges of foreign collusion under the national security law.
On Wednesday the high court, including one judge known to have been appointed to oversee national security cases, ordered Lai’s release, albeit under the strict conditions.
Within hours the department of justice said it was applying for leave to appeal, RTHK reported.
The fraud charges against Lai and two Next Digital Media executives were related to accusations the trio breached land-lease terms by misusing Next Digital’s office space for other purposes.
The foreign collusion charges were reportedly based on Lai’s tweets and published commentary, as well as interviews with foreign media.
Some of the alleged crimes cited by police occurred prior to the non-retroactive law coming into effect, including a tweet to Donald Trump calling on him to sanction Chinese officials.
Both cases are scheduled to return to court in early April, and Lai is separately facing other charges over unauthorised gatherings. In denying bail earlier this month, the judge said Lai had committed offences while awaiting trial on other charges.
Police have arrested more than 30 people under the national security law introduced in late June, mostly for non-violent political crimes. Four people have been charged. Of these, Lai is the only one to have been granted bail.
The national security law 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.”
Lai has been one of the most outspoken pro-democracy voices, continuing to rail against Beijing’s intrusions into Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy even as authorities intensified their crackdown on opposition and increased pressure on the media and the judiciary.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested over the 2019 mass protests, including dozens of activists and politicians, and at least 2,000 prosecuted.
Earlier this month, high-profile activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were jailed, while other campaigners have fled overseas. Pro-democracy lawmakers quit Hong Kong’s legislature in protest at a Beijing directive that allowed the disqualification of four of their colleagues.
International condemnation and diplomatic sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong officials have had little to no impact on the crackdown. (Source: The Guardian)