Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai will have spent almost a year in remand the next time he appears in court as the founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily. He, along with six other ex-staff members, may see their national security cases transferred to Hong Kong’s High Court when the case is considered again in December.

At the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday, Lai appeared alongside ex-CEO of Next Digital Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s former editor-in-chief Ryan Law, former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, ex-executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, ex-editor-in-chief of the English news section Fung Wai-kong, and ex-editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee.

West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

It is the first time the pro-democracy media tycoon appeared in court together with his former staff members. As the defendants entered the dock, a dozen people sitting in the public gallery waved at them. Some court staff members gestured at the public gallery to ask them to settle down.

While the defendants looked at the public gallery, Lai – at one point – pulled down his face mask and mouthed some words to them. The court session began almost 40 minutes later than the scheduled time.

Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law asked whether any representatives for Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited were present, but no one responded.

The defendants will appear in court on December 28. By that point, Lai would be three days shy of being held behind bars for a year, as he was returned to custody on New Year’s Eve last year when the Court of Final Appeal approved leave for an appeal against the granting of bail.

Lai was charged under the national security law for allegedly colluding with a foreign country, or with external forces, to endanger national security; conspiring to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security; and conspiring to “do an act or a series of acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice.”

Meanwhile, Cheung and Law – along with the three companies – are accused of conspiring with the founder of Next Digital and Apple Daily, Lai, to collude with foreign powers.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: StudioIncendo.

Chan, Lam, Fung, and Yeung stand accused of conspiring with Cheung, Law, Lai, and the three companies to ask foreign countries or external forces “to impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities” against Hong Kong or China.

The prosecution will seek to transfer the cases to the Court of First Instance and handle committal proceedings in the December court date. The highest penalty the High Court can impose is life imprisonment. No defendants applied for bail.

The Beijing-imposed national security law criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The companies ‘still exist’

After Law dealt with the court proceedings for the defendants, they were excused from the dock as the court began to deal with the absence of representatives from the three companies.

As the group left the dock, the majority of those in the public gallery stood up, waved, and shouted “take care” and “hang in there.” While Lai had to wait for other defendants to leave before being allowed to step away from the dock, people shouted “Mr. Lai hang in there.”

Apple Daily headquarters. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Court staff members attempted to stop people from standing up or shouting, and told people in the public gallery to “keep quiet.”

The prosecution said that, while the three companies did to send any representatives to the court session, the companies “still exist,” and so they would ask them to attend another court session also on December 28.

The judge asked whether there was any application that would impact the status of the companies, such as any ongoing process to wind down, the prosecution said they expected their status to remain the same until December.

The government announced last month that Hong Kong finance chief Paul Chan had presented a petition to the Court of First Instance to wind up Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily.

All remaining board members of the parent company quit earlier this month, citing a “climate of fear” under the sweeping national security law.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.