Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is led into a police van as he heads to court on Dec. 12 to be charged under the territory's controversial new national security law after being accused of conspiring with foreign forces to endanger national security. (Photo: AFP)
A Hong Kong court has denied bail to Jimmy Lai, a 73-year-old Catholic media tycoon and pro-democracy activist, drawing criticism from the city's retired Cardinal Joseph Zen.
Cardinal Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong and a fierce critic of Beijing, said the court action was "ridiculous."
Lai and some of his executives were arrested on Dec. 2 and accused of breaching their office building's leasing terms. Lai owns and runs Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper.
On Dec. 11, officials announced that he would be charged under the draconian national security law.
The court on Dec. 12 denied him bail. Lai will have to spend the coming four months in jail while police are probing his overseas visits as part of the investigation.
Lai is charged with one count of conspiring with foreign powers, which is an offense under the security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong this year.
According to prosecutors, Lai urged overseas nations to "voice out and take action" in a tweet tagging United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the draconian law came into force on June 30.
He also asked the US administration to "be lenient" on Hong Kongers seeking asylum in the US in a tweet.
In August, the media tycoon was held under the new national security law but was granted bail.
Lai has been "charged with many other criminal offenses [related to his pro-democracy activism] and still bail was granted for these cases," Cardinal Zen told Catholic News Agency.
"But now for such a trivial thing, he is not even allowed bail?" he wondered.
He said the move against Lai is "obviously a case of political intimidation." He said the authorities were attempting to stifle a free press.
Many former pro-democracy lawmakers were held in October after the introduction of the security law by Beijing.
The law criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with external forces and stipulates strict prison terms for offenders.
Lai was handcuffed and chained around the waist while produced in the court on Dec. 12, local media reported.
"Jimmy Lai is obviously the one who runs the only newspaper which is still completely free. You know many other papers are bought by people on the side of government, there may still be some respectable reporters working for them, but at the right moment they can suppress everything," said Cardinal Zen."So, there is a clear policy direction: suppress the freedom of expression."
Before the law was implemented, many Catholics including Cardinal Zen had warned that certain clauses in the law could be misused to silence the free expression of views.
After the law came into force, authorities launched a systematic crackdown on civil liberties, the cardinal noted.
He said they are "attacking the resistance mainly on three fronts" — courts, education and the press.