The High Court has barred media tycoon Jimmy Lai from travelling to the US citing a risk that the 72-year-old may contract the coronavirus and derail judicial proceedings.

The judgement released on Thursday came as the founder of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily stood accused of criminal intimidation. He is alleged to have threatened to harm a man, identified only as “X,” with the intention to alarm him, at the Tiananmen massacre vigil in 2017. The travel restriction was imposed as one of the conditions for granting him bail.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Todd Darling.

Lai had renewed his application to temporarily lift the ban preventing him from leaving Hong Kong, saying he had family members to visit and business dealings to attend to in the US.

Judge of the Court of First Instance Alex Lee wrote in his ruling that he was “unable to be satisfied” with the necessity of the proposed trip due to its lack of urgency and the use of video conferencing.

“The travel restriction to a certain extent limited his freedom of movement, but not his personal liberty in Hong Kong,” he added.

He wrote the court should adopt a “holistic” view that took into account charges faced by Lai in separate proceedings, including organising an unauthorised assembly and taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

‘Adverse effect’

The judge wrote that, if Lai were to catch the deadly virus whilst in the US, he would likely fail to surrender to custody and, if he were diagnosed upon return, his trial would “almost definitely” be impacted, thus having “an adverse effect on the due administration of justice.”

“For all we know, the virus is highly infectious. Thus, the risk of inflection [sic] whilst in the United States or on [a] plane journey cannot be ignored. This is especially so when the applicant happens to fall within the age group of people who are most vulnerable.”

File photo: HKFP.

The US has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, tallying the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths worldwide, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. First detected in China’s Hubei province, the virus has infected more than 8.3 million people in at least 188 countries and regions, killing more than 449,000 people.

Lai’s trial for the charge of criminal assault is set to begin on August 19.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.