Hong Kong Court Revokes Bail For Jimmy Lai After Deciding It Didn't Interpret Vague National Security Law Vaguely Enough
from the criminalizing-impolite-disagreement dept
The Chinese government has been showing its impatience over its impending takeover of Hong Kong. China agreed to allow Hong Kong to run under its own government until 2047, but the last couple of years have seen the Chinese government indicating its willingness to perpetually violate this agreement with the region.
As pro-democracy protests continue to rage against the Chinese machine, the Chinese government has begun forcing its will on Hong Kong residents. This has been greatly aided by complicit Hong Kong government legislators, who have basically agreed to all the Chinese government’s demands. The latest attempt to undermine the will of the people came packaged in a “national security” law — one that outlawed demonstrations against the Chinese government’s early and uninvited interloping, threatening dissenters with a lifetime of imprisonment.
Since then, the Chinese government (again with the assistance of Hong Kong’s supposedly-independent government) has been arresting and jailing prominent critics, along with dozens of other vocal protesters. One of the most famous arrestees is Jimmy Lai, a vociferously pro-democracy media tycoon — one with the power and reach to do serious damage to the Chinese government’s unwanted advances.
Lai was arrested under the new national security law last August. The Chinese government — via its Hong Kong mouthpiece — claimed Lai’s pro-democracy agitation was an illegal “collusion” with “foreign governments.” This vague assertion likely referred to Lai’s visits with world leaders — visits in which he expressed his displeasure with the Chinese government.
In late December, Lai was granted bail by a Hong Kong court, reversing its earlier denial. It came with very tight strings attached. Lai was placed on house arrest and, more importantly, forbidden from doing anything that might make the two governments engaged in his prosecution look bad.
[Lai was] banned from meeting officials from foreign governments, attending or hosting media interviews or programmes, publishing articles in any media, and posting messages or comments on social media, including Twitter.
He was also hit with a $10 million HKD fine ($1.3 million USD) and ordered to surrender all travel documents.
The government apparently felt this punishment wasn’t heinous enough. Or, at the very least, unlikely to silence the outspoken government critic. It went back to the court and got the reversal reversed, putting Lai back behind bars. This time around, the court bought the government’s national security arguments, relying on unexplored areas of the brand new law to deprive Lai of his very limited freedom.
In its determination, the court held that it was “reasonably arguable … that the learned judge may have erred in his construction or application” of Article 42(2) of the national security law, under which bail can only be granted to a criminal defendant if a judge has sufficient grounds to believe that the defendant will not commit acts endangering national security.
The new law apparently makes speaking out against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments a national security issue, even if it’s nothing more than speaking out against the Chinese government’s violation of an agreement it struck with the UK back in 1997. This is the problem with national security laws, no matter where they’re deployed. A little imagination is all it takes to turn dissent into a threat and outspoken criticism into a criminal act. That’s why there’s so many of these laws in countries that thrive on punishing dissent. And that’s why countries that are considered more “free” find them handy to have around, just in case.