Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jailed on Fraud Charges

A Hong Kong court on Saturday sentenced pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to five years and nine months in prison over fraud charges. Wong Wai-Keung, administrative director of Lai's media company Next Digital, was also sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jailed on Fraud Charges
Image credit: AP

Facts

  • A Hong Kong court on Saturday sentenced pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to five years and nine months in prison over fraud charges. Wong Wai-Keung, administrative director of Lai's media company Next Digital, was also sentenced to 21 months in prison.
  • Lai, the 75-year-old founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily tabloid, was convicted in October of subletting office space to a company from the headquarters of Next Digital, in breach of lease agreements with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park Corporation (HKSTP).
  • The court ruled that Lai had violated the lease terms by allegedly concealing the operations of Dico Consultants Limited from the landlord and the HKSTP between April 1998 - May 2020. Under the agreement, the premises could only be used for printing and publishing newspapers or magazines.
  • Lai, a prominent critic of Beijing, has been in custody for almost two years and has faced several other charges, including under Hong Kong's National Security Law, which Beijing enacted in 2020 following anti-government protests. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
  • Human Rights Watch has condemned Lai's prosecution, calling it "a vendetta against a leading proponent of democracy and media freedom in Hong Kong."
  • Meanwhile, Judge Stanley Chan noted in his sentencing that Lai had "acted under the protective umbrella of a media organization" and that the prosecution of a media tycoon "wasn't equivalent to an attack on press freedom."

Sources: HongKongFP, Associated Press, CNN, and Sky.

Narratives

  • Anti-China narrative, as provided by WSJ. With a series of baseless charges against Lai, it's evident that the businessman is being punished for speaking out against government abuse of power, corruption, and the anti-dissent National Security Law imposed by Beijing. This latest sentence is further testimony to how far Beijing is willing to go to force Hong Kong into line with the mainland.
  • Pro-China narrative, as provided by Global Times. Hong Kong courts have a statutory duty to enforce the rule of law, which has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the press — especially in this case, where the evidence against Lai is undeniable. Although heavily backed by the US, he isn't above the law and must be held accountable.

Predictions