Media mogul Lai released from prison and placed under house arrest

The Hong Kong owner of Apple Daily faces gagging before his court case under the new national security law is heard

Jimmy Lai has been released from prison on bail after a High Court judge slapped a gagging order on the Hong Kong media tycoon.

On Wednesday, he was placed under house arrest until his court case relating to the draconian national security law is heard on April 16.

The 73-year-old owner of Apple Daily, the city’s biggest Chinese language newspaper, has been one of the most high-profile figures in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Before his arrest in August on alleged charges of “collusion with foreign forces,” Lai admitted he was prepared to go to prison for his beliefs.

“I’m prepared for [that]. If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven’t read. The only thing I can do is to be positive,” he told the AFP news agency.

The facts:

  • Lai faces three charges, including taking part in the June 4 vigil to commemorate the student-led Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, which was banned in Hong Kong this year.
  • The protest movement holds an annual event to remember the victims of a brutal crackdown in Beijing by People’s Liberation Army troops.
  • He has also been charged with breaking the national security law, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 
  • Lai was granted bail of HK$10 million or US$1.3 million.
  • The terms include surrendering his travel documents, a ban on meeting foreign officials, publishing articles, posting on social media and giving interviews.

What was said: Justice Alex Lee Wan-tang summed up his decision to reject the prosecutions’ “application” to reject bail when he said: “I don’t have the jurisdiction [to grant the application].”

Reaction to the news: Back in August, Human Rights Watch illustrated the hardline approach that Beijing has taken against Hong Kong. “The national security law creates deliberately vague offenses that can be conveniently applied to those who dare to criticize Beijing. These include elastic concepts like ‘colluding with foreign elements,’ calling for sanctions, or engaging in ‘hostile activities’ against the Hong Kong or Chinese governments,” Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of Human Rights Watch, said.

China Factor comment: Critics have argued that the oppressive security law has strangled the city’s basic rights and freedoms. They were guaranteed under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement after Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, ending 156 years of British rule. But pro-democracy demonstrations last year and anti-Beijing unrest prompted President Xi Jinping’s administration to force through hardline legislation with minimal consultation. Since then, a media crackdown has come into force, while pro-democracy campaigners, such as Lai, have been rounded up. “The public searches of the media offices have had a shocking effect on the industry … freedom of the press and expression are at stake,” the Hong Kong Democratic Party said in a Facebook post.