December 19, 2023
HONG KONG – The trial against former media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who stands accused of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, along with charges on other counts, began on Monday at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.
The trial, which is being heard by a three-judge panel, is expected to last 80 days. On Sunday evening, journalists queued up outside the courthouse to secure seats for the high-profile case. Given the amount of publicity the case has generated, the judiciary has made special arrangements to allow over 300 people to follow the proceedings.
Among those queuing up for a place in the courthouse on Monday morning were several representatives of foreign consular offices in Hong Kong, including Sapphire Le Sage, consul, political and communications section of the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong.
The police maintained a strong security presence around the courthouse throughout the trial on Monday, with metal barricades in place, dozens of officers and counterterrorism teams patrolling the area, and armored vehicles standing by.
The public and staff of the judiciary were required to pass through security checks before entering the courthouse.
Lai, together with three subsidiaries of the (now-defunct) Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital, faces charges on four counts — two counts of conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security, one count of colluding with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security, and one charge of conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publications.
On Monday, the court dealt with a technicality involving the seditious publications charge, in which the defense argued that the prosecution had failed to lay the charge within the prescribed time limit of six months.
Lai is accused of having committed the offense between April 1, 2019 and June 24, 2021. The prosecution laid the charge against Lai on Dec 28, 2021, four days after the prescribed time period if the court decided the starting point for the period to be June 24, 2021, Robert Pang Yiu-hung, senior counsel representing Lai, submitted.
Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping, one of the three judges on the case, however, said that the charge of sedition may involve activities that were ongoing, unlike with other types of charges, such as conspiracy to commit murder, which would be classed as individual cases.
Were the logic of the defense to be followed, the judge said, once the defendant has completed committing the offense, he would not be subject to prosecution for his similar behavior six months later.
Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios questioned whether charges should be brought separately for each article involved.
The three-strong panel of judges also includes judge Alex Lee Wan-tang, who has been designated to adjudicate on cases under the National Security Law of Hong Kong.