Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai (center) walks out of the High Court in Hong Kong on Dec. 23. (Photo: AFP)
Three weeks after being arrested on fraud charges, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai was released on bail on Dec. 23.
Lai, a Catholic, was charged with fraud on Dec. 3 for violating lease terms for his media company, Next Digital, which publishes the popular Apple Daily.
The outspoken 73-year-old was also charged on Dec. 11 under the sweeping national security law with having a nexus with foreign nationals and organizations.
The High Court granted him bail of HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) and placed him under house arrest.
The tycoon is banned from stepping out of his house, granting interviews, posting messages on social media, publishing articles and seeking help from foreign organizations.
Lai is considered one of the financial hub's most ardent Beijing critics, and his Next Media group is touted as one of the key bastions of media freedom in Hong Kong. His popular newspaper has been critical of China's heavy-handed policies towards Hong Kong.
Lai, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, enjoys cordial ties with Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong and a fierce Beijing critic, who recently decried denying bail to Lai.In August, Lai was arrested under the new national security law but was granted bail.After imposing the draconian law, the semi-autonomous region's administration rounded up a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters.
Earlier this month, police in Hong Kong also arrested prominent activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, accused of leading anti-government protests last year.
China imposed the national security law after massive protests erupted in the former British colony in June 2019 over a proposed extradition law.
The new law bans secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Western nations and human rights organizations have condemned the law as a tool to crush dissent in the Chinese-ruled territory.
China's National People's Congress passed the law in June. Pro-democracy activists say it violates the treaty between China and Britain that guarantees the former colony autonomy for 50 years.