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Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai sentenced for fraud over use of Apply Daily office


HONG KONG — Jimmy Lai, a jailed media mogul and pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, was sentenced on Saturday to five years and nine months in prison and fined $256,000 for fraud over using the headquarters of Apple Daily, a now closed newspaper he founded.

Lai, 75, is a prominent target of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to silence its critics in Hong Kong. He has been in detention since December 2020 and has been arrested several times, including for his participation in pro-democracy protests.

He is also waiting trial for alleged violations of the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020 and faces a life sentence. The law aims to stamp out dissent in Hong Kong by restricting rights, including freedom of speech.

Lai was found guilty of two counts of fraud in October, including breaching the terms of Apple Daily’s office lease. Judge Stanley Chan said in his judgment on Saturday that he had opted for a heavier sentence because of the seriousness of the charges. He added that the nature of the case is “purely a simple matter of fraud” and that the lawsuit should “not be characterized as political”.

Lai’s upcoming trial on national security charges, where he faces allegations of conspiracy and collusion with foreign countries, and a sedition offense, has also been steeped in controversy.

Lai intended to hire a prominent British criminal and human rights lawyer to represent him – only to meet opposition from the Hong Kong government, which argued that foreign lawyers should not not be able to argue a case involving national security legislation. Hong Kong’s top court has ruled against the government, prompting Hong Kong leader John Lee to ask Beijing to intervene by interpreting the security law.

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Since Hong Kong fell from British to Chinese rule in 1997, there have been growing concerns about the city’s judicial independence.

If Beijing intervenes, it will be another blow to the procedural rights of defendants under national security law, said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University.

“We have seen in a number of cases, including the Jimmy Lai case, people being denied their right to bail,” he said, adding that Hong Kong’s policy of allowing only designated judges to adjudicate national security law cases “further undermines their right to bail”. general right to a fair trial.

Maya Wang, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, urged authorities to drop charges against Lai and “release him immediately.”

“Beijing’s elaborate criminal case against Jimmy Lai is a vendetta against one of Hong Kong’s leading proponents of democracy and media freedom,” Wang said.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, in an earlier statement condemned the verdict in Lai’s fraud case, calling the charges “false”.

“Efforts to stifle press freedom and restrict the free flow of information undermine Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and damage Hong Kong’s credibility as a commercial and financial hub,” Price added.

Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper shut down last year after police raided its newsroom and arrested six senior executives. In November, the former employees pleaded guilty to a charge of colluding with foreign forces.


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