HONG KONG — A Hong Kong courtroom discovered media tycoon Jimmy Lai responsible of fraud on Tuesday, the newest in a myriad of circumstances towards Lai and different pro-democracy activists that critics say officers are utilizing to stamp out dissent within the Chinese language territory.
Lai, 74, the founding father of defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Day by day, is among the many most outstanding activists to be prosecuted within the wake of anti-government protests that swept Hong Kong for months in 2019.
Lai, a British citizen, is already serving jail sentences for his position in unauthorized assemblies in the course of the 2019 protests in addition to an unauthorized vigil in 2020 for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. crackdown.
Prosecutors within the fraud case accused Lai of working a consulting agency from the workplaces of Subsequent Digital, Apple Day by day’s father or mother firm, for greater than 20 years in violation of its lease with a government-owned entity. Lai and co-defendant Wong Wai-keung, a former senior government at Subsequent Digital who was additionally convicted, each pleaded not responsible.
The fraud verdict comes forward of Lai’s trial in December beneath a brand new nationwide safety legislation, wherein he’s accused of “colluding with overseas forces” and conspiracy to supply “seditious publications.” Lai, who’s pleading not responsible, might face life in jail if convicted beneath the legislation, which Beijing imposed in 2020 in response to the protests.
Six different former staff of Apple Day by day and Subsequent Digital are anticipated to plead responsible within the case, which will likely be heard by three handpicked judges moderately than a jury.
Critics of the nationwide safety legislation say it has drastically eroded civil liberties in Hong Kong, the preservation of which had been promised for 50 years when the previous British colony was returned to Chinese language rule in 1997. Officers say the legislation was obligatory to revive order after the protests.
Hong Kong has skilled a dramatic decline in press freedom for the reason that nationwide safety legislation was enacted, in keeping with advocacy teams like Reporters With out Borders, falling from eightieth to 148th within the group’s World Press Freedom Index this 12 months.
Since final 12 months, the federal government has shut down Apple Day by day in addition to one other pro-democracy newspaper, Stand Information; pressured Hong Kong’s largest journalist group; and arrested journalists beneath nationwide safety and sedition legal guidelines. An annual survey by the Committee to Shield Journalists discovered that the variety of Hong Kong journalists it considers unjustly imprisoned for his or her work rose from zero to eight in 2021.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s prime chief, has denied that press freedom is beneath risk, saying it’s protected beneath the Primary Legislation, the town’s mini-constitution. However he has additionally accused “dangerous apples” within the business of utilizing journalism as a pretext to hazard nationwide safety and says “nobody is above the legislation.”
Related Press contributed.