Granting Jimmy Lai bail a heavy blow to rule of law

2020-12-30 12:16:29

Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. [Photo by PARKER ZHENG/] Jimmy Lai Chi-ying, founder of Next Media Group and charged with violating the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (National Security Law for the HKSAR), has been granted bail by the High Court. The Court of Final Appeal (CFA) also rejected the Department of Justice's appeal for the controversial decision. Although the court set relatively strict conditions for Lai to go home on bail, the decision has caused an uproar among local residents. Many people expressed incredulity and strong criticism of the judges who made it, because evidence is stacked against Lai, especially for those acts committed after the National Security Law for the HKSAR took effect. He publicly badmouthed the National Security Law and begged foreign governments to increase sanctions on China, including the HKSAR, for cracking down on separatism. Given his obsession with undermining the sovereignty, national security and development interest of our country, the probability of him jumping bail is sky-high considering how "valuable" he is to those anti-China Western powers. As such, the High Court decision to grant him bail has no doubt hurt public confidence in Hong Kong's rule of law and underscored the urgent need for a thorough judicial reform before justice is compromised even more. Previously, Lai applied for but was denied bail twice precisely because the presiding judges believed he was highly likely to jump bail. This time the High Court set the bail at HK$10 million ($1.29 million), on strict conditions such as a third-party guarantee and reporting to the police three times every week. He was also ordered by court to stay at home the whole time and hand over his travel documents to the police; and he is forbidden to contact any foreign government official in any way or form or to meet any of them, to accept interviews with any mass or social media or publish/post commentaries on any of them, and to seek foreign sanctions on the country including the HKSAR directly or otherwise. All those conditions demonstrate the High Court is well aware that the risk of Lai jumping bail is very high. Lai did not stop colluding with anti-China forces everywhere even after the National Security Law for the HKSAR took effect at the end of June. He published signed commentaries on social media as well as his own newspaper, Apple Daily, urging others to "fight" against the central government and begging foreign governments to increase sanctions on China in addition to interfering in Hong Kong affairs. He was arrested on Aug 10 for violating the National Security Law and later allowed to wait for trial at home on bail, during which he continued his separatist advocacy on talk shows and social media, including pleas for foreign government sanctions on China, including Hong Kong. Naturally, the judges who granted those criminal suspects bail in the first place have all come under fire for openly exhibiting sympathy toward the suspects out of political bias against the country According to the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, the court can deny application for bail if it believes a suspect may possibly not report to the police as ordered, or break the law again, harass witnesses and/or obstruct justice. Article 42 of the National Security Law stipulates, "No bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security." Here the key words are "sufficient grounds". While on bail after his arrest in August, Lai stepped up instead of refrained from violations of the National Security Law by parroting foreign politicians' anti-China chorus and inviting overseas forces to meddle in Hong Kong affairs as well as provoking the central government. In doing so, he also violated Article 29 of the National Security Law, which stipulates "colluding with foreign or external forces to undermine national security" is punishable by 3-10 years of imprisonment and longer than 10 years or life in prison if the offense is exceptionally serious. These provisions of the National Security Law have apparently been compromised by the High Court decision to grant Lai bail again despite his outrageous criminal streak. It is no secret that Jimmy Lai has long been a favorite and important crony of anti-China forces everywhere, which is why the US government is particularly upset about his arrest according to the National Security Law and why so many people believe he would try to escape justice by all means imaginable. Obviously, the High Court has completely failed to convince the public of its ability to deliver justice according to existing law in this case. There has been a string of bail-jumpers accused of National Security Law offenses in recent months and some of them had help from anti-China forces overseas in fleeing Hong Kong and becoming fugitives. Naturally, the judges who granted those criminal suspects bail in the first place have all come under fire for openly exhibiting sympathy toward the suspects out of political bias against the country. As a result, popular demand for judicial reform reached new highs in public opinion polls after the High Court granted Lai bail yet again. Many observers have pointed out the HK$10 million bail and strict conditions mean little if anything to Lai and his overseas enablers in terms of deterrence, meaning nothing short of prison can stop him from fleeing Hong Kong if he wants to. As such, the High Court decision further proved the need for immediate judicial reform to plug procedural loopholes, especially in granting bail for National Security Law offenders. The author is a current affairs commentator. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.