Charged with “foreign collusion,” the judge says Lai can return home provided he meets a series of strict conditions.
Jimmy Lai, a media mogul and most prominent pro-democracy activist indicted under a China-imposed security law, has been released on bail and allowed to return home after being taken into custody three years ago. weeks.
A Hong Kong High Court judge on Wednesday set the bond at HK $ 10 million ($ 1.3 million) and imposed a series of conditions, including that Lai stay at home, not publish on the social networks, does not give interviews or meet foreign officials. He was also required to surrender his passport.
An immediate appeal from the prosecution was rejected.
Lai is one of Beijing’s fiercest critics in the territory, while his Next Media group is considered one of the main remaining bastions of media freedom. He was first arrested in August when around 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid, an incident which reporters from the newspaper broadcast live to viewers across the territory and around the world.
The mogul’s Twitter account was disabled on Wednesday, but there were photos online of Lai arriving at the house and waving from the front door.
– Alex Lam Lin Wei Cong (@lwcalex) December 23, 2020
The 73-year-old had been in custody since December 3 when he was charged with fraud relating to the lease of the building that houses Apple Daily. A week later, he was charged with “collusion with foreign powers” – a breach of national security law that was imposed just before midnight (4:00 pm GMT) on June 30.
The law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to life imprisonment and has been condemned by critics as a “draconian” tool to crush dissent. in the semi-autonomous city, to which freedoms were guaranteed unknown on the mainland for at least 50 years when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say the law was necessary after months of protests last year that began with peaceful mass marches against an extradition bill with the mainland and developed into calls for democracy which sometimes ended in violent clashes.
Under the Security Act, the defendant must prove that he would not pose a threat to national security if released on bail. In Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system, the prosecution traditionally bears the burden of proving its case.
Lai has traveled to Washington frequently, meeting with officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong’s democracy. Beijing called him a “traitor”.
Lai has to report to the police three times a week. He is then due in court in April.