Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been found not guilty of criminal intimidation against a reporter in 2017.

Lai, who founded embattled pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, was accused of threatening a reporter from rival publication Oriental Daily during an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre at Victoria Park. Lai had shouted profanities and said “I’m going to mess you up,” Oriental Daily reported.

Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai pushes through a media pack to a waiting vehicle as he leaves the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on September 3, 2020, after he was found not guilty of criminal intimidation where he was accused of threatening a pro-beijing reporter. Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP.

In handing down her verdict on Thursday, Magistrate May Chung Ming-sun said that the reporter – known only as “X” – was an unreliable witness who dodged simple questions. X was said to have suffered from psychological stress afterwards and took sedatives, local media reported.

The defence argued that Oriental Daily reporters had tailed Lai for years and that his reaction to being photographed was understandable given the circumstances.

Lai did not deliver a public statement to reporters upon leaving West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The 72-year-old could have faced up to two years behind bars and a HK$2,000 fine if convicted at the magistrate’s court.

Separately, the media mogul is facing a trial on alleged incitement charges in connection with the June 4 vigil, along with 12 other democrats and public figures. He is also among 15 opposition figures facing charges over last year’s pro-democracy protests and unrest.

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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.