Hong Kong Apple Daily founder and staff face new sedition charge

HONG KONG, Dec.28 (Reuters) – Hong Kong prosecutors on Tuesday filed a “seditious publication” complaint against jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, who already faces charges under tough security law national government that critics say has stifled freedoms in the Asian financial center.

Lai, 74, founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, appeared in court alongside six other former Apple Daily employees. The daily tabloid closed in June after authorities raided the newspaper, arrested staff on national security grounds and froze assets.

Lai is already facing two charges under a national security law that Beijing imposed on the former British colony last June, including over collusion with a foreign country.

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The additional charge of sedition accuses Lai of conspiring to print, publish, sell, distribute “seditious publications” between April 2019 and June 24, 2021.

Prosecutors allege the publications could “stir up hatred or contempt or stir up disaffection” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, according to the indictment viewed by Reuters.

Lai is among the most prominent people to be charged under the National Security Act which was enacted in June 2020 to punish terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment .

Lai’s arrests and repeated prosecutions have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups, who say the law has been used to jail dozens of pro-democracy activists, crush dissent and freedoms, including understood from the press.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the law restored stability after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Lai has been sentenced in several unauthorized assembly cases. He has been held for more than a year and is now in Stanley maximum security prison in solitary confinement, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The same charge of conspiracy to produce seditious publications has been filed against the six former Apple Daily staff, including editor Ryan Law; deputy editor Chan Pui-man; Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Next Digital, Apple’s parent company; columnist Yeung Ching-kee; editor of the English edition Fung Wai-kong; and editor Lam Man-chung.

The six were also charged with “conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country or with outside elements”.

Magistrate Peter Law adjourned the case until February 24. All the accused will continue to be remanded in custody until that date.

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Reporting by James Pomfret and Sara Cheng; Editing by Robert Birsel

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