A Hong Kong court has rejected an attempt by the Justice Department to challenge the acquittal of media tycoon Jimmy Lai on a charge of intimidating a reporter from a rival newspaper.

Judge Andrew Chan of the Court of First Instance on Monday threw out the bid to overturn magistrate May Chung’s decision in September last year to find the Apple Daily founder not guilty.

High Court. Photo: GovHK.

The 74-year-old is currently jailed over protest-related offences and awaiting trial under the national security law on charges punishable by life imprisonment. In the intimidation case he was accused of threatening an Oriental Daily reporter at a public gathering on June 4, 201 7.

According to Monday’s ruling recapping the facts of the case, the reporter had filmed and took photographs of Lai at the scene. The media mogul responded by saying: “I will definitely mess you up, I will definitely mess you up, I now tell you.” He added: “I have fucking taken photos of you” after the reporter said he would not get close.

Lai was also said to have pointed his finger at the journalist and scolded him, using foul language. But Chung ruled that the words Lai used were “ambiguous and not amounting to threat to injure.” She also said the media tycoon may have blurted out the words “without the requisite intention.”

The Justice Department had asked the Court of First Instance to review the acquittal by looking at whether Chung’s two findings were “perverse.” They argued that no reasonable magistrate who applies the proper considerations and directions would arrive at such a ruling.

In his ruling, Chan said there were “different ways and means to mess one up.” He said it could range from “the most civilised act of initiating court proceedings to the unlawful deed of causing serious physical injury.”

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The Department had cited Lai’s interview with police, in which he said he did not think of hiring a triad society to harass the journalist, as proof that his words were not ambiguous. The judge said this inference was not logical.

“I have great difficulty in following the Appellant’s logic in suggesting that a denial/rejection of a proposition by a suspect could be turned into an admission/confession,” Chan wrote in his judgement, saying Chung’s finding that the words Lai uttered were “ambiguous” could not be said to be perverse.

Although Chan disputed Chung’s conclusion that Lai blurted out “wild and whirling words” and said she “erred in law in approaching her second element of the offence,” the appeal should be dismissed because the Justice Department could not prove both findings were wrong.

Lai will appear in court again on December 28 for another hearing in his national security case.

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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.