Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai granted bail

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was granted bail on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after he was remanded in custody over fraud and national security-related charges.

Lai, an outspoken advocate for democracy in Hong Kong, was charged with fraud on Dec. 3 for allegedly violating the lease terms for office space for his media company, Next Digital. He was later charged again on Dec. 12 under the national security law, on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security.

Lai is among a recent string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent months, prompting concerns that Hong Kong is cracking down on dissent following Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory in June.

He appeared in court Wednesday and was released on bail of 10 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.3 million). He had been kept behind bars since Dec. 3.

Lai’s bail terms require him to be confined to his home unless he has to report to the police or go to court. Other requirements include surrendering his travel documents and a ban on meeting with foreign officials, publishing articles on any media, posting on social media and giving interviews.

Hong Kong prosecutors appealed to have the bail bid overturned, but were denied.

Beijing imposed the national security law in response to protests in Hong Kong that began in June 2019 over a proposed extradition law and expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the former British colony.

The legislation outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

In certain cases, those charged under the national security law could also face trial in mainland China, where the legal system is highly opaque. Serious offenders of the law could face life imprisonment.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong sentenced prominent pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow to jail for their roles in an anti-government protest outside police headquarters last year.

The U.S. has sanctioned over a dozen Chinese officials and Hong Kong politicians, including the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, over the crackdown on opposition in the city. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted earlier this month that Hong Kong’s security law “makes a mockery of justice.”

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