Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has been sent back to jail after the territory’s top court rescinded his bail, in one of the highest-profile cases in the territory under Beijing’s sweeping new national security law.
Mr Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most outspoken critics of China’s ruling Communist party, had been released on HK$10m ($1.3m) bail last week. He was put under house arrest and instructed to avoid giving interviews and using social media.
But the Court of Final Appeal on Thursday said he must be detained while prosecutors’ appeal was being considered, calling the lower court’s ruling to grant Mr Lai bail “erroneous”. Mr Lai will remain in custody until his bail hearing on February 1.
The decision comes just days after the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist party mouthpiece, lambasted the decision to grant bail and raised the spectre of his case being transferred to the mainland.
The comments compounded fears about the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary as Beijing mounts a crackdown against dissidents and pro-democracy activists in the wake of last year’s protests.
Mr Lai was arrested earlier this month and faces fraud charges for allegedly misusing a businesses premises under the terms of its lease. He was previously arrested in August and charged under Beijing’s new national security law for allegedly colluding with foreign powers. He denies the allegations.
Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based campaign group, condemned the court’s decision. “Judicial independence trampled on, the rule of law further undermined, and yet another outrageous assault on #HongKongers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Lai, 73, has been a longstanding target of Beijing. His Apple Daily newspaper is Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy tabloid and was often waved by protesters at anti-government demonstrations.
He is an ardent supporter of US president Donald Trump’s hardline approach to Beijing and met with senior US officials, including Mike Pence, vice-president, and Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, in Washington last year.
Mr Lai stepped down as chairman and executive director of Next Media, the media conglomerate he founded, last week. The company said the decision was “in order to spend more time dealing with his personal affairs”.
The decision to rescind Mr Lai’s bail comes a day after a court in Shenzhen sentenced 10 Hong Kong protesters to between seven months and three years in prison in mainland China for violating border restrictions. The group were captured by Chinese officials in August while attempting to flee to Taiwan by speedboat to avoid national security law charges. The group had been held for four months and prevented from choosing their own legal representation.
An additional two members of the group, who were aged 16 and 17 at the time of their arrest at sea, also pleaded guilty but were remanded into Hong Kong police custody without standing trial. They are expected to face further charges in Hong Kong.