A judge who last week released national security suspect Jimmy Lai from custody – albeit into house arrest – says the media tycoon's lawyers have an arguable defence case, with Lai's apparent requests for foreign interference appearing to be nothing more than "comments and criticisms".
High Court judge Alex Lee on Tuesday set out his reasons for granting bail to Lai, 73, as he awaits trial for allegedly colluding with foreign forces, as well as a fraud charge.
Lee noted that for the national security offence, prosecutors had pointed to statements Lai allegedly made during an online chat arranged by Apple Daily on July 30, and during an interview he hosted on August 18.
But the judge said that rather than requests for foreign countries to impose sanctions or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China, Lai's statements seem to have been merely comments.
"The statements in question on their face appear to be comments and criticisms rather than requests, albeit one might find those views disagreeable or even offensive," Lee said.
He added that the prosecution had stated that its case – based on background materials such as things Lai said before the national security law came into effect – is that the statements in question are actually "requests in disguise" for foreign intervention.
"Whether or not the prosecution can make good their case must be a matter for the jury. As I have stressed, the strength of the evidence may change and it may be that the evidence would become stronger in the future. For the present purpose, however, the defence’s stance is on its face arguable," said Lee, who is one of the SAR's hand-picked national security judges.
On December 23, Lai was released on bail of HK$10 million on the condition that he remains confined to his home, apart from when he reports to police three times a week, or needs to appear in court.
He was also ordered to surrender his travel documents, and told he cannot post messages on social media, give interviews, publish any articles or meet foreign officials.
Lee said given these undertakings by Lai, he had "sufficient grounds to believe that the accused will not commit acts endangering national security" while on bail.
On December 31, the Court of Final Appeal is expected to hear an appeal by the Department of Justice against the bail decision.
Meanwhile, Lai is stepping down as chairman of Next Digital. In a statement to the stock exchange, the company says he tendered his resignation "so as to spend more time dealing with his personal affairs".
Lai is replaced by Ip Yut-kin, a non-executive director of Next Digital, which owns Apple Daily.
Ip, 69, was appointed a non-executive director in June 2016 and has more than 40 years of media experience.
Last updated: 2020-12-29 HKT 20:01
Jimmy Lai statements look like mere comments: judge
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