Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai will stand trial over national security and sedition charges at the city’s High Court, where the maximum sentence is life in prison.

The founder of the defunct tabloid Apple Daily appeared in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law, along with six former staff members of the newspaper and its parent company Next Digital, at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday.

Apple Daily headquarters. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Law presided over committal proceedings, whereby a magistrate determines whether there is enough evidence for case to be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court for trial or sentence, and committed Lai and three companies to the High Court for trial and the remaining six defendants for sentencing.

The 74-year-old Lai faced four charges, including two counts of conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign countries or external elements, one count of collusion with foreign forces, and one count of conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.

The six defendants – former CEO of Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s former editor-in-chief Ryan Lawformer associate publisher Chan Pui-man, former 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 – along with three companies – Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited – stood accused of the same conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces and conspiracy to print seditious publications charges.

The maximum sentence for national security charges is life imprisonment, and two years in prison for a first sedition offence.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

Apple Daily ceased operations last June after the arrests of senior executives and the freezing of financial assets of the three companies. The newspaper’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O were also raided as part of a police operation involving some 500 officers.

The media tycoon has been remanded in custody since December 2020. Since then, Lai has been sentenced to prison over separate protest-related charges, and is currently on trial over fraud charges linked to the use of the Apple Daily headquarters in Tseung Kwan O.

Cheung and Law have been remanded since June last year, while Chan, Lam, Fung, and Yeung have been in remand since July last year.

The Beijing-imposed national security law, enacted in June 2020, criminalised collusion with foreign forces, subversion, secession, and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The sedition law, which falls under the Crimes Ordinance, criminalises incitement to violence, disaffection and other offences against the administration.

Reporting restrictions surrounding committal proceedings mean that written and broadcast reports are limited to including only the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.

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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.