Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper, was denied bail on fraud charges on Thursday and ordered jailed until April by a court.
The detention of Mr. Lai, 73, came a day after three leading Hong Kong activists were sentenced to prison for participating in a protest last year, the latest blow to the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
Mr. Lai, already arrested in August for unrelated offences, is not charged under the strict national security law imposed by Beijing last June. Still, the action against him is being viewed as part of China’s broader crackdown on dissent.
The media tycoon has been a vocal critic of China and has met the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement – a meeting which prompted Beijing to call him a “traitor.”
Instead, authorities accused Mr. Lai and two senior executives of his company, Next Digital, of violating the terms of the lease of the company’s headquarters which houses his Apple Daily newspaper.
They are accused of not using the office space as permitted under the lease between 2016 to 2020, and that they had sub-let part of the premises which resulted in benefits to Apple Daily.
Next Digital, in a statement, said it did not expect the charges to have an immediate impact on daily operations.
“This is about dirtying Jimmy up. It’s Beijing’s policing brought to Hong Kong,” said Mark Simon, an associate of Mr Lai.
China has introduced a new national security law in Hong Kong to exert greater control over the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997 on a promise that its autonomous status would be preserved.
The national security law allows China to take tough action against anyone seen as undermining Beijing’s authority.
China has since also passed a resolution requiring all politicians to show patriotism to the mainland, and has promised to follow up with more measures to “perfect” Hong Kong’s judiciary. (Source: Independent UK)