Crime & Justice

Hong Kong tycoon pleads ‘not guilty’ to 3 national security charges

Hong Kong, Jan 2 (EFE).- The trial against Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media magnate Jimmy Lai resumed Tuesday with a hearing in which he officially pleaded “not guilty” to three charges against him in relation to national security and for which he could face life imprisonment.

The Kowloon Western District Court hosted Tuesday the opening remarks of the prosecutor’s office, after rejecting a last attempt by Lai’s legal team to have sedition charge against him dismissed.

After a 10-day recess, the accused arrived at the court in a vehicle from the Hong Kong Department of Correctional Services at about 7:30am local time (23:30 GMT on Monday), amid strong police presence.

Tuesday was the fourth day of a process that is estimated to last for at least 80 days and has generated strong international interest.

Once in the courtroom, flanked by three prison officers in the dock, Lai simply received the accusation through a headset and pleaded “not guilty” when asked to confirm his claim.

Prosecutors presented two accusations of conspiracy for collusion with foreign forces for the alleged request for international sanctions against mainland China and Hong Kong through the now defunct Apple Daily newspaper, as well as for an “anti-China pressure” campaign it allegedly financed.

Additionally, Lai is charged with a third count of sedition conspiracy for allegedly inciting public hatred against authorities in the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests.

Separately, the court received “not guilty” pleas to similar charges from three Apple Daily companies, represented by independent attorneys.

Veteran activist Alexandra Wong, popularly known by her Cantonese nickname “Grandma Wong,” was in front of the court Tuesday, unfurling a Union Jack flag and expressing her support for Lai in the face of close police surveillance.

Aside from the current charges, Lai is currently serving a sentence of five years and nin months in prison for a crime of fraud for alleged violations in the lease of his multimedia company. It’s a sentence imposed after spending two years in preventive detention following a long series of legal cases against him.

The founder of the pro-democratic newspaper Apple Daily has been in prison since December 2020.

Six other defendants in the same case, all employees of the newspaper, have admitted their guilt and three of them will also testify against him.

Lai’s is the first criminal trial held in the semi-autonomous territory for a crime of collusion with foreign forces, in a process that has generated great international controversy, with calls from the United States and the United Kingdom for the businessman’s immediate release.

The national security law imposed by China on Hong Kong in 2020 following massive pro-democracy protests has been widely criticized for suppressing dissent and eroding freedoms in the city. EFE

msc/lds

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