Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is set to apply to halt his high-profile national security trial, which was scheduled to begin in just over two weeks’ time, Lai’s legal representative has said.

Lai, wearing a white shirt and beige suit, appeared in front of three handpicked national security judges – Justices Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee – at the High Court on Monday for a pre-trial review.

Jimmy Lai Apple Daily
Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: HKFP.

The 74-year-old media tycoon stands accused of three national security charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or external elements, and one count of collusion with foreign forces.

The Apple Daily founder is also accused of one sedition offence: conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.

Three other companies linked with Lai’s defunct pro-democracy tabloid – Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited – will also stand trial. The corporations have each been accused of one count of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and one count under the sedition law over allegedly seditious publications.

Senior Counsel Robert Pang, representing Lai, said on Monday that the defence intended to file an application for stay of proceedings to halt the trial, and would file submissions by Friday.

Pang said that grounds for the application included the fact that the trial will be heard by a panel of three judges, instead of a jury. However, Toh and Lee questioned the timing of the application, as Lai’s team knew about the arrangement “long before.”

High Court
High Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Trials at the High Court are usually heard by a jury. However, under the national security law, a jury can be excluded under reasons such as the need to protect state secrets or the safety of members of the jury and their families.

The court will deal with the application on the first day of Lai’s trial on December 1. Six other defendants in the case, who were former staff members of Apple Daily or its parent company Next Digital, have pleaded guilty and will appear in court next Tuesday.

The media mogul has been remanded in custody for close to two years since December 2020. Lai has since been handed jail terms over protest-related offences.

The tabloid folded in June last year after the arrests of its staff and raid of its newsroom in Tseung Kwan O. Apple Daily was the first newspaper to be charged under the national security law since its implementation in June 2020 and the colonial-era sedition law since the handover.

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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.