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China Increases Attacks Against its Critics: Hong Kong Press Magnate Jimmy Lai on Trial


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Hong Kong, 11 Dec (EFE).

The Hong Kong press magnate Jimmy Lai, who is currently in custody on charges of fraud, will also face charges for violating the controversial Hong Kong National Security Law that Beijing imposed on the semi-autonomous city last June.

The Hong Kong police confirmed on Friday that, “after an exhaustive investigation,” they accused Lai, 73, of “conspiracy with foreign forces” with the aim of “endangering national security”, one of the cases contemplated in the aforementioned law, and which could lead to life imprisonment.

According to the newspaper founded by the businessman, Apple Daily, Lai received this accusation “for publishing articles on social networks and giving interviews to foreign media in which he asked other countries to sanction Hong Kong and local government officials.”

The headline, critical of Beijing, adds that Lai, also founder of the media group Next Digital, will have to go to the West Kowloon Court tomorrow to attend a hearing on the case.

The tycoon is now in police custody after being recently denied bail in a case involving possible fraud.

Lai on the spotlight

Last August, Lai was already arrested for this alleged “collusion with foreign forces”, becoming the highest profile detainee among those arrested for allegedly violating the controversial national security law.

Lai was then released on bail after 40 hours after paying 300,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $38,700), plus another 200,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $25,800) as collateral.

The digital newspaper HK01 revealed today that two of Lai’s sons and four directors of the Next Digital group were also arrested at the time for their alleged “collusion with foreign forces.”

After the accusation against Lai became known, the human rights organization China Human Rights Defenders assured through Twitter that “Hong Kong’s practices increasingly resemble China’s way of silencing dissidents.”

There is a different version in Beijing, where the official press describes the magnate as a “traitor” for his “notorious acts of instigation to violent and chaotic disturbances in the city last year,” according to the Chinese nationalist newspaper Global Times.

Both before and after the law went into effect, there were rumors within the pro-democracy movement that Lai would be among the first to have problems with it.

The legislation is theoretically aimed at defusing the biggest crisis recently experienced in the city after the 2019 wave of protests that, on numerous occasions, ended in violent incidents between the police and the protesters.

However, since its enforcement on June 30th, there have been numerous police raids and arrests of activists, some of whom have chosen to go into exile.

The local government insists that the law will only affect an “extremely small minority of people,” but lawyers and activists warn of a possible end to the rights and freedoms enjoyed in the city compared to the rest of China.

Another activist is awaiting sentencing

On the sidelines of the Lai case, 19-year-old activist Tony Chung was found guilty today of desecrating the Chinese flag and participating in an unauthorized demonstration more than a year and a half ago, and is awaiting his sentence.

The protest took place on May 14th last year in front of the Hong Kong Parliament, where Chung snatched a Chinese flag from a pro-Beijing demonstrator, causing the mast to break, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

In addition, Chung, a former leader of the student organization Studentlocalism, is one of the first three defendants under the new security law and is awaiting trial on charges related to it.

Also charged are a protester who rammed a group of police officers with a motorcycle while carrying a Hong Kong independence flag and another person who chanted chants commonly hummed at last year’s protests, such as “Free Hong Kong, the revolution of our era,” which Beijing says advocate independence and are therefore illegal under the new law.

Likewise, the well-known pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, one of the leaders of the dissolved Demosisto Party, is pending a case related to the aforementioned security law.

Chow was recently sentenced to 10 months in prison for another case: organizing an “unauthorized assembly” that ended in the siege of the Wan Chai police headquarters in June 2019.

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