Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai cleared of intimidation charges

Case against media tycoon dates back to 2017 and is not related to his arrest under China-imposed national security law.

A court in Hong Kong has declared media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai not guilty of criminal intimidation, ending one of several cases against him after his high-profile arrest under a new national security law.

Thursday’s verdict was for a case that dates back to 2017 and was unrelated to his arrest last month.

Lai, who is a key critic of Beijing, had used foul language when confronting a reporter from Oriental Daily News, a major competitor to Lai’s tabloid Apple Daily.

Police, however, only charged him in February this year.

The mainland-born media magnate had pleaded not guilty.

He smiled after the verdict was read out and shook hands with supporters who filled the courtroom.

Lai’s case comes after he was arrested for suspected collusion with foreign forces on August 10, making him the highest-profile person to be arrested under the Beijing-imposed law.

The 71-year-old had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he met officials including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.

After Lai’s August arrest about 200 police officers searched the offices of his newspaper, Apple Daily.

The national security law punishes any act China considers subversion, seccession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Critics say it crushes freedoms, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged anti-China, pro-democracy protests last year.

Lai’s Apple Daily has vied with pro-Beijing Oriental Daily for readership in the special administrative region. In 2014 the Oriental Daily published a fake obituary of Lai, claiming that he had died of AIDS and many types of cancer.

Prosecutors in the case said Lai had intimidated the Oriental Daily reporter.

Lai’s lawyers said Lai had been followed by reporters for three years and his comments were not intended to harm the reporter but expressed his exasperation.

Lai is also facing separate court cases for illegal assembly relating to anti-government protests last year.

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