Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has filed an appeal against the court’s decision to uphold a national security search warrant on his phones, which he says contain protected journalistic materials.

The appeal was heard by judges Jeremy Poon, Susan Kwan, and Carlye Chu at the High Court on Wednesday. Lai, 74, who is currently remanded in custody, did not appear in court.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai. Photo: HKFP.

The national security police confiscated two phones from Lai’s home on August 10, 2020. On the same day, over 100 police officers raided the headquarters of Apple Daily, the pro-democracy newspaper founded by Lai, in Tseung Kwan O.

Lai was told by the Department of Justice in July that the police had obtained a new search warrant under the national security law to look into the contents of his two phones and their copies.

He filed a judicial review against the warrant granted by Principal Magistrate Peter Law, which was rejected by High Court Judge Wilson Chan in August.

Under the implementation rules of the national security law, a search warrant may be granted by a magistrate if they believe “there is reasonable ground for suspecting that any specified evidence” to be found.

Lai’s team disputed the definition of “specific evidence,” and said that it should not be interpreted to include journalistic materials, which were usually protected from police search and seize operations.

High Court
High Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The Apple Daily founder’s legal team previously relied on the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (IGCO), which states that unless otherwise specified, warrants should not be construed as allowing for materials that are or are suspected to be journalistic materials to be searched and seized.

Senior Counsel Robert Pang, representing Lai, argued on Wednesday that while the team was not advocating that the implementation rules must follow the IGCO, there should be similar protection given to journalistic materials.

Lai has identified thousands of items on the two phones as journalistic materials. However, the commissioner of police has disputed claims that more than 8,000 of those items were legally privileged.

The High Court is expected to hand down a ruling on those disputes on Friday, Senior Counsel Jenkin Suen, who represented the police, said on Wednesday.

Following submissions from Pang and Suen, Poon said that the court would hand down a ruling by the end of October.

Lai, who has been remanded in custody since December 2020 and sentenced to 20 months in jail over protest-related cases, will stand trial in December.

He faces four charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude 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.

Six other former staff members of Apple Daily and Next Digital are set to plead guilty in the case.

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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.