Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is to stand trial on national security charges in Hong Kong’s High Court, where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

The 73-year-old Apple Daily founder, who is currently serving 20 months behind bars for his role in three unauthorised protests in 2019, appeared before Chief Magistrate Victor So on Tuesday on the national security charges.

jimmy lai
Jimmy Lai. File photo: StudioIncendo.

So approved a request by prosecutor Ivan Cheung to hold committal proceedings at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on July 27 so the case can be transferred to the High Court.

Lai is accused of violating the Beijing-imposed national security legislation by requesting a foreign power to impose sanctions against China or the HKSAR between July 1 and December 1 last year.

The sweeping law enacted on June 30 last year also outlaws secession, subversion and terrorist acts, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The prosecution slapped two additional charges on the media tycoon in April, saying he conspired to collude with foreign forces between July 1, 2020 and February 15 this year. Lai was said to have connived with his top aide Mark Simon, activist Andy Li, legal assistant Chan Tsz-wah and self-exiled activist Finn Lau.

High Court
Photo: GovHK.

He also faces one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by allegedly helping activist Li flee Hong Kong. Li and 11 other fugitives were captured by mainland authorities last summer while trying to flee to Taiwan on a speedboat. Ten were later sentenced to between seven months and three years in a Chinese prison.

Lai did not apply for bail.

Defendants tried before the High Court can face a maximum penalty of life in prison upon conviction. Tong Ying-kit, the first man charged under the national security law, is set go on trial on June 23 before three High Court judges.

Tong has repeatedly challenged the court’s decision to deny him a jury trial. A judgement on his appeal will be handed down a day before the start of his trial, scheduled to take 15 days.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.