Released on bail the same day, the 71-year-old Lai was arrested for participating in a banned march on 31 August 2019 in protest against Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law, under which Hong Kong citizens and visitors, including journalists and their sources, could have been extradited to China.
The proposed law, which triggered an unprecedented wave of protests in Hong Kong, was subsequently abandoned.
The founder and chairman of the Next Digital media group, which publishes the widely-circulated Apple Daily newspaper, Lai is due to appear in court on 5 May along with two pro-democracy activists who were also arrested on 28 February.
Lai is also charged with the “criminal intimidation” of a reporter with the pro-Beijing Oriental Daily media group, with whom he had a verbal exchange in June 2017.
“There is no justification for the charges against Jimmy Lai and his arrest at home like a criminal, which seem to be intended to humiliate him,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “His arrest is designed to smear him and his media group, which provided extensive coverage of last year’s pro-democracy protests.”
Formerly called Next Media, Next Digital is one of the few remaining Hong Kong media groups that dare to openly criticize China’s Communist Party regime and its Hong Kong allies. For this, it is often harassed and attacked. It was subjected to a major cyber-attack in June 2014 and was the target of two arson attacks in January 2015, one of them on Lai’s home.
The Hong Kong special administrative region is ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling from 18th position in 2002. China is currently ranked 177th.