Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai to plead not guilty in national security case

Show caption Jimmy Lai will face a court panel of three judges handpicked by the Hong Kong government. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Hong Kong Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai to plead not guilty in national security case Democracy activist and Apple Daily founder will stand trial without jury and could face up to life in prison Helen Davidson in Taipei and agencies Tue 23 Aug 2022 08.25 BST Share on Facebook

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The founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, will stand trial without a jury in Hong Kong, after he told a court he would plead not guilty to national security charges.

On Monday, prosecutors told a case management hearing that Lai would challenge the accusations but six fellow executives and manager from the now-defunct Apple Daily or its parent company, Next Digital, intended to plead guilty.

A guilty plea usually entitles defendants to a sentence reduction. If found guilty of the national security charges, Lai faces up to life in prison.

Lai, 74, a prominent media mogul and pro-democracy activist, is serving time on protest-related offences. He will face a court panel of three judges handpicked by the Hong Kong government, under laws introduced by Beijing, which moved national security cases away from Hong Kong’s long-established jury trial system.

The largest national security trial so far, of 47 prominent democracy activists, will also be heard without a jury, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported last week.

A copy of the judge-only trial order for Lai, seen by AFP, cited the “involvement of foreign elements” in the case, the “personal safety of jurors and their family members” and the “risk of perverting the course of justice if the trial is conducted with a jury”.

The move to judge-only trials are among numerous concerns being raised by international legal observers about changes to Hong Kong’s legal system.

Lai, the six executives and three companies are accused of crimes under the national security law introduced in 2020, and anti-sedition laws that have sat on the books since Hong Kong was a British colony but have been increasingly used by current authorities.

Prosecutors say the defendants conspired to seek foreign sanctions or other hostile actions against Hong Kong and Beijing, in breach of the national security laws.

Lai also faces separate but similar charges against him over interviews and editorials, and for allegedly helping activist Andy Li attempt to escape Hong Kong. Li and 11 others were captured by Chinese authorities who intercepted their boat off the coast of Hong Kong.

Critics of the national security law – which broadly criminalises behaviour as secession, sedition, foreign collusion, or terrorism – say it has been used to crush dissent in the city and bring it under the control of Beijing decades before a 50-year promise of autonomy expired.