Hong Kong media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has been held since December 2, 2020. He has completed a 20-month prison sentence for various charges associated with unauthorized pro-democracy assemblies, and is now serving 5 years and 9 months following a separate conviction on fraud charges while awaiting an additional trial on national security charges, which carries a possible life sentence.
Lai founded Next Digital Limited, a media company that published the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily from 1995 to 2021, and Next Magazine from 1989 to 2021.
On February 28, 2020, Hong Kong police arrested Lai at his home on suspicion of participating in a prohibited pro-democracy march on August 31, 2019, and of criminal intimidation in relation to an incident on June 4, 2017, when he allegedly swore at a reporter from the rival Chinese-language Oriental Daily, according to reports.
Lai, who has U.K. citizenship, was charged and released on bail the same day, and he was later acquitted of the criminal intimidation charge, according to news reports.
On April 18, 2020, police again arrested Lai at his home again on suspicion of organizing and participating in the 2019 demonstration, and released him on bail later that day, reports said.
On June 11, 2020, police notified Lai that he would be charged with "inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly" for his participation in a vigil days earlier marking the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre, according to news reports.
On August 10, 2020, police arrested Lai, his two sons, and four Apple Daily executives for alleged collusion with foreign powers under the national security law; the executives and his sons were released on August 11, and Lai was released on bail on August 12, according to news reports.
On December 2, police detained Lai and two Next Digital executives on a fraud charge, and on December 11 authorities charged Lai with foreign collusion under Hong Kong’s national security law, news reports said. On December 23, Lai was released to house arrest on bail, and a judge ordered that he could not use social media or give interviews, according to news reports.
According to Hong Kong’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, the fraud charge stems from an allegation that Lai, along with Next Digital’s administrative director Wong Wai-keung and chief operating officer Royston Chow, illegally violated a lease with the Hong Kong Science Park. Chow was later granted immunity for testifying against Lai.
On December 31, 2020, the court of final appeal granted prosecutors’ request to detain Lai again, and he was returned to jail, according to news reports and court documents.
If convicted of violating the national security law, Lai could face up to life in prison, according to news reports.
Lai’s arrest came amid authorities’ crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement, which targeted many media figures and activists critical of the government and the Chinese Communist Party.
On April 16, 2021, prosecutors charged Lai with an additional collusion offense under the national security law for allegedly conspiring with others to call for foreign sanctions between July 2020 and January 2021, and a common-law offense for allegedly perverting the course of justice by helping an activist escape to Taiwan, according to news reports.
The same day, Lai pled guilty to organizing and participating in two unauthorized pro-democracy marches on August 18 and 31, 2019, and a court sentenced him to 14 months in prison, reports said. On May 28, 2021, Lai pled guilty to organizing and participating in another unauthorized pro-democracy march on October 1, 2019, and received another 14-month sentence, according to news reports. The court combined Lai’s both of those sentences into a total of 20 months in prison, but he was not released when that period was exceeded in 2022.
In December 2021, Lai was sentenced again to 13 months in prison for “inciting others” to take part in an unauthorized assembly in 2020. The judge ordered the sentence to run concurrently to the previous sentences he was serving.
Lai and Wong Wai-keung were each convicted of the fraud charges in October 25, 2022, and sentenced to 5 years and 9 months and 21 months respectively on December 10. In late 2022, he was still awaiting a separate trial, planning to plead not guilty to three counts of collusion under national security law, one sedition charge, and one charge of perverting the course of justice, according to news reports.
CPJ emailed the Hong Kong Police Force requesting comment, but did not receive any response.