HONG KONG — Jimmy Lai, a publishing tycoon and a distinguished critic of the Chinese language Communist Get together, was charged with colluding with overseas forces below Hong Kong’s nationwide safety legislation, the police mentioned on Friday, as Beijing intensified its efforts to smother town’s faltering pro-democracy motion.
Mr. Lai is essentially the most high-profile particular person to be formally charged below the safety legislation. If convicted, he may withstand life in jail.
Mr. Lai, 73, was arrested in August on suspicion of violating the sweeping safety legislation, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June. The police additionally raided the headquarters of Mr. Lai’s newspaper, Apple Daily, one of many final remaining anti-Beijing publications within the metropolis.
Mr. Lai has pushed different nations to punish China for its erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong. He traveled to america final 12 months to meet officials together with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And he has referred to as for sanctions on Chinese language officers.
It’s not clear what the police say he did particularly to violate the safety legislation. As written, the legislation shouldn’t be alleged to be retroactive. Because it was imposed, Mr. Lai has said that he can be extra cautious about his phrases.
Greater than two dozen others have been arrested below the measure. Tony Chung, 19, an activist who was additionally charged below the legislation, was convicted on Friday of desecrating the Chinese language nationwide flag and taking part in an illegal meeting final 12 months. A separate trial on expenses below the nationwide safety legislation trial is pending.
Mr. Lai was already in jail after being denied bail on unrelated fraud charges, a call he’s interesting. However due to the cost below the nationwide safety legislation, which grants the authorities sweeping powers to carry defendants with out bail, it’s unlikely that he’ll win launch.
The legislation additionally shifts the authorized panorama for Mr. Lai. Defendants might be tried in mainland China, the place the authorized system is considerably extra opaque than in Hong Kong.
Even when Mr. Lai is tried in Hong Kong, the safety legislation empowers town’s chief government, who is chosen by Beijing, to nominate particular judges, and the trial might be held behind closed doorways.
Mr. Lai is scheduled to seem in courtroom on Saturday, the police mentioned.
Mr. Lai and his newspaper, Apple Each day, have been vocal supporters of the antigovernment protests that roiled Hong Kong for months final 12 months and posed essentially the most critical problem to Beijing’s rule over the territory in many years.
Mr. Lai’s activism has made him a frequent goal of the Chinese language Communist Get together, which has denounced him formally and thru pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong.
“By brazenly colluding with exterior forces to hazard nationwide safety, Jimmy Lai and a small handful of different anti-China troublemakers in Hong Kong have purposely undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and its residents’ elementary well-being,” a spokesman for the Chinese language overseas ministry’s commissioner in Hong Kong mentioned in a press release in August.
The professional-democracy protests have been subdued this 12 months by social distancing guidelines, aggressive police ways and the brand new safety legislation. Final month, Beijing dealt a blow to the one of many final remaining venues for political opposition in Hong Kong when it approved the removing of 4 pro-democracy lawmakers from town’s legislature.
The professional-democracy camp protested the transfer by resigning from the legislature en masse.