Jimmy Lai, six others face new charge of printing inflammatory publications; case will give media clear reference, more freedom
Published: Dec 28, 2021 10:01 PM
Jimmy Lai Photo:VCG

Jimmy Lai Photo:VCG

 Jailed Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, as well as six other people with the newspaper, faced a new charge of printing and disseminating inflammatory publications as they returned to local court for another pretrial hearing on Tuesday, which experts said would provide the public with a much clearer view of inflammatory publications and lead local media outlets to have much more freedom in their work.

Lai and the other six, all former senior executives of Next Digital and Apple Daily, were charged for violating the national security law for Hong Kong. The West Kowloon Court decided to postpone the trial until February 24, 2022 after adding the new charge of printing, publishing, distributing, displaying or copying inflammatory publications on them, according to Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po.

Lai was previously sentenced to 20 months in prison for four illegal gathering cases.  

According to the new charge, the seven suspects printed, published, distributed, displayed, or copied inflammatory publications from April 1, 2019 to June 24, 2021 in order to trigger hatred toward and contempt of Hong Kong's legal system and the Hong Kong regional government, provoke residents to attempt to change legal matters via illegal channels, and incite other people to use violence and violate the laws. 

Lawrence Ma, barrister and chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times on Tuesday that there should be ample material to support the new charge, and that longer prison terms will be added to the people charged who are already serving prison terms, once convicted. 

Also, it might be the first time that Apple Daily could be defined as a seditious publication, some experts said, which signaled the significance of reference to other publications. 

"The accused like Lai might challenge the constitutionality of this offense and test it against the right to free speech, but national security is always an internationally recognized exception to freedom of expression, so the offense might survive such a constitutional challenge," Ma said. 

Louis Chen, a member of the Election Committee of Hong Kong and member of the All-China Youth Federation, said the evolving case will have a certain social impact, leading the public to have a much clearer view of printing, publishing, distributing, displaying or copying inflammatory publications. 

"Under such clear guidelines, media outlets will have much more freedom in their work," he said. 

The six other suspects who were arraigned on Tuesday included the CEO of Next Digital Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-Kwong, and Apple Daily deputy chief editor Chan Puiman, according to media reports.

They are also charged with colluding with overseas forces and requiring the latter to launch sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the People's Republic of China.