Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily, is seen in Hong Kong on December 12, 2020. A court recently upheld a police request to search Lai's phones. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Hong Kong judge upholds police request to search Jimmy Lai’s phones

Taipei, September 1, 2022–Hong Kong authorities should drop their efforts to search the cellphones of media owner Jimmy Lai, which would violate basic tenets of press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Tuesday, August 30, a High Court judge ruled that police could search two phones with journalistic information owned by Lai, the imprisoned founder of the Next Digital media company and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, according to news reports. Lai’s legal team has said they will file an appeal, and the court ruled that the search would not be conducted until 11 p.m. on September 6, while the appeal is pending, according to those reports.

“Hong Kong authorities’ pursuit of information on Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai’s phones violates basic principles of press freedom and journalistic confidentiality,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Hong Kong authorities should not contest Lai’s appeal against this search, and should release him and all other Next Digital executives held in retaliation for their work.”

Lai, CPJ’s 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Awardee, is being held in pretrial detention after serving a 20-month prison term for charges related to his alleged involvement in illegal demonstrations. He is awaiting trial on national security and sedition charges, according to CPJ research; if convicted on the national security charges, he could face life in prison.