Jimmy Lai Chee-ying

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Hong Kong media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is serving a 20-month prison sentence while also awaiting trial on national security and fraud charges. Police arrested Lai multiple times throughout 2020, and he has remained in detention since December of that year. 

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, according to the company’s corporate information page.

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 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, 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, 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, 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, 2020, 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

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 offence 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 offence for allegedly perverting the course of justice by helping an activist escape to Taiwan, according to news reports

Also on April 16, 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, 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, those reports said. 

On May 6, 2021, a district court set the trial for the fraud charge to run from March 14 to April 20, 2022, according to news reports. According to Hong Kong’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, that 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.

On October 12, Lai and Next Digital executives Cheung Kim Hung, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, Chan Pui-man, Yeung Ching-kee, Fung Wai-kong, and Lam Man-chung made brief court appearances at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts before magistrate Peter Law adjourned their national security case to December 28, according to news reports

During closing arguments at Lai’s trial for alleged incitement linked to the 2020 vigil, his lawyer Robert Pang denied that authorities had adequately proven their case, news reports said. According to reports, Judge Amanda Jane Woodcock was scheduled to issue a verdict in that case on December 9.

As of November 2021, Lai is awaiting trial on four other charges, including fraud; perverting the course of justice; and two collusion charges.

Lai is being held at Stanley Prison as of October 2021, according to news reports.

In an email signed by the “Duty Officer Police Public Relations Branch,” the Hong Kong police did not comment specifically on Lai’s case, but wrote in September 2021 that some people arrested in the city “tried to make use of journalistic work to collude with a foreign country or external elements to impose sanction against Hong Kong and the PRC.” The email stated that such actions “deviated from the work of a professional journalist.” 

The email also stated, “If any organisation or person violates the Hong Kong National Security Law or other offences, Police will conduct investigation and make arrest or prosecution according to evidence collected.”