A Hong Kong court has denied media tycoon Jimmy Lai bail on Thursday, detaining him until his April court hearing over a fraud charge related to the illegal use of his company’s premises.
Lai was arrested by authorities earlier this year under Hong Kong’s new national security law, and was later released on bail. However, during his trial on a separate fraud charge, the presiding judge ordered his detention over concerns he is an “absconding risk.”
As the founder of the Next Digital media company, Lai has used his position to create problems for Beijing, becoming increasingly critical of China’s leadership and supportive of the pro-democracy protest movement in Hong Kong. He has rejected the claims from Chinese authorities as “trumped up” charges but did not go into further details as his court case has begun.
Critics of China have argued that the charges against Lai have been levelled as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy figures, citing the sentencing of activists Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow on Wednesday. So far, at least 31 people have been arrested under the national security law and more than 10,000 people have been detained over charges linked to the 2019 protest movement.
China rejects these claims and believes Lai is a “traitor” due to his regular trips to Washington DC, meeting with officials such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as rallying supporters during last year’s Hong Kong protests. His actions have led Beijing to accuse him of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security, which carries a life sentence.
While the National Security Law and China’s recent prosecutions have raised concerns internationally about a potential assault on freedom of assembly and speech in the country, Beijing has argued that the actions are necessary to return stability to the area and bring it in line with mainland China.
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