Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was charged with fraud and denied bail Thursday, ensuring that one of the region's loudest pro-democracy voices will be behind bars until at least spring. On Thursday a Hong Kong court, finding that he was a flight risk, ordered him to stay in custody until his next hearing, currently expected in April.
The decision effectively sidelines one of the most prominent critics of the Hong Kong government and its backers in Beijing. As one of Hong Kong's wealthiest individuals and founder of the media company Next Digital, he's perhaps best-known for publishing Apple Daily, a popular tabloid that's often openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Prosecutors say the septuagenarian executive and two senior colleagues at Next Digital were using their offices for purposes that were not allowed under their lease. Apple Daily reports the court, finding Lai liable to commit further offenses, ordered him detained at least until the case resumes April 16.
It is not Lai's first — or even second — arrest this year. His highly visible efforts with Apple Daily, together with his full-throated backing of pro-democracy protests and public attempts to enlist U.S. support, have frequently attracted the glare of government attentions.
He and more than a dozen other activists were arrested last April for allegedly organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies. And in August, Lai and several other individuals — including his two sons — were arrested under a controversial new national security law imposed just over one month earlier by Beijing.
That law effectively criminalized dissent in the city, a former British colony that long enjoyed a measure of autonomy since its return to Chinese control in 1997. But much of that legal autonomy was sidestepped in late June under the legislation, which set up a separate channel by which Hongkongers who run afoul of Beijing may be tried by Chinese laws and face life imprisonment.
Suspected of violating the new law, Lai was accused in August of colluding with foreign forces, and the Apple Daily newsroom was raided by some 200 police officers. Unlike his latest encounter with the law, the wealthy media magnate was quickly released on bail after his arrests earlier this year.
Lai is perhaps the most prominent individual to be caught in Hong Kong's sweeping crackdown on dissent recently — but he is far from the only one. Just one day before his hearing, three prominent Hong Kong opposition activists received months of jail time for organizing mass demonstrations against the Beijing-backed government.