CPJ condemns ‘harsh’ Jimmy Lai jail sentence in Hong Kong fraud case

Media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, shown here leaving Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal by prison van in February 2021, was sentenced to five years and nine months imprisonment on fraud charges on December 10, 2022. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Taipei, December 10, 2022 – In response to news reports that a Hong Kong court on Saturday sentenced Jimmy Lai, founder of the Next Digital media company and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, to five years and nine months imprisonment on fraud charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentencing and called for Lai’s immediate release.

“The harsh sentence handed to Jimmy Lai on trumped-up fraud charges shows how Beijing and Hong Kong will stop at nothing to eliminate any dissenting voices,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Beh Lih Yi in Frankfurt, Germany. “Authorities must end this persecution once and for all. Lai is 75 and has served two years behind bars. He must be released immediately and all charges must be dropped.”

The sentence was handed down after a court on October 25 convicted Lai of two counts of fraud for allegedly violating the terms of the lease of Next Digital’s headquarters. He was also fined HK$2 million (US$257,000).

Lai plans to appeal the jail sentence, former Next Digital executive Mark Simon told CPJ via email.

Wong Wai-keung, a Next Digital administrative director was also convicted on the same charge and sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Lai has been in prison since December 2020 and has served a 20-month prison term for two other charges relating to his alleged involvement with unauthorized demonstrations. He is awaiting trial on national security charges, for which he faces life imprisonment; proceedings are expected to begin on December 13.

In 2021, Lai received CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in recognition of his extraordinary and sustained commitment to press freedom.

China was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2021, according to CPJ’s 2021 prison censusthe first time that journalists in Hong Kong appeared on CPJ’s census. CPJ will release its 2022 prison census on December 14.