Hong Kong pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai found guilty on fraud charges
Pro-democracy Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai was found guilty Tuesday on two fraud charges related to lease violations, the latest in a series of prosecutions apparently aimed at punishing him for his past activism.
Lai was arrested during a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement following widespread protests in 2019 and under the city’s sweeping Beijing-imposed National Security Law. He is already serving a 20-month sentence for his role in unauthorized assemblies.
His media company, Next Digital, published the now-shuttered Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper.
Lai also faces collusion charges under the National Security Law and a separate sedition charge. His former colleague, Wong Wai-keung, was convicted Tuesday on a single charge of fraud.
Lai and two former executives at his company were charged with fraud for subletting part of the office space to a secretarial firm, which was also controlled by Lai, between 2016 and 2020. Their move allegedly violated lease agreements with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. The second fraud count was for letting the same firm use the media outlet’s office space in alleged breach of lease agreements from 1998 and 2015.
District Court Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi said the firm’s business did not conform with what was stipulated in the lease agreements, and ruled that Lai had hidden the fact that the company was occupying space in the building. He said he did not believe Lai had forgotten the business was using the office.
Hong Kong is preparing to introduce new middle school textbooks that will deny the Chinese territory was ever a British colony.
One of the executives, Royston Chow, made a deal earlier this year to help with Lai’s and Wong’s prosecution in exchange for exemption from criminal liability.
Lawyers for Lai are asking the United Nations to investigate his imprisonment and multiple criminal charges as “legal harassment” to punish him for speaking out.
Armed with the National Security Law, prosecutors have brought cases against people for clapping in court, sentenced five speech therapists to nearly two years in prison for their role in the publication of children’s books deemed seditious and put on trial a 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others accused of failing to register a now-defunct fund to assist people arrested in the mass anti-government protests three years ago.
That has undermined faith in the future of Hong Kong as a bustling bastion of finance, with increasing numbers of young professionals responding to the shrinking freedoms by moving abroad.
Electoral reforms have ensured that only those deemed to be “patriots” by Beijing serve in the city’s legislature. China has installed John Lee, a career security official, as the city’s new chief executive.
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