Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, 73, was detained on 2nd December in Hong Kong under the charge of ‘fraud’. Unlike two of his associates charged simultaneously, Lai was denied bail and will remain in detention until his next court hearing scheduled on 16th April 2021. Lai has previously been charged on three separate occasions with “criminal intimidation” , “unlawful assembly” and “colluding with foreign forces” respectively, the last accusation for which he risks a life sentence.
“At a time when the Chinese regime actively tries to restrict press freedom in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai is the victim of judicial harassment which clearly aims to tarnish his image of a press freedom defender”, says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head, who urges the Hong Kong government “to immediately release, and drop all charges on Jimmy Lai and his associates”.
Lai is the founder of Apple Daily, one of the few remaining Hong Kong media groups openly critical of the Chinese regime and provided extensive coverage of last year’s pro-democracy protests.
In June 2020, the Chinese regime adopted the National Security Law which allows it to directly intervene in the special administrative region of Hong Kong and to punish what it considers “crimes against the state”, a blurry regulation that opens the door to arbitrary arrests and can specifically threaten journalists.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2020 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, stagnates in 177th place out of 180 countries.