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Day 2: December 19, 2023

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case|Legal controversy over overdue prosecution of conspiracy to publish seditious materials, The court adjourned to Friday for ruling

Next Media founder Jimmy Lai and three related companies of “Apple Daily” were charged with conspiracy to collude with foreign forces. The trial was resumed today (19th) at the West Kowloon Court (temporary High Court). The defense disputed that the prosecution’s additional charge of “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” exceeded the six-month prosecution time limit. It argued that the time limit was to protect basic human rights and ensure that the authorities promptly stopped the distribution of seditious publications. The prosecution alleged that the defendant published more than 160 inciting posts during the stated period, and carried out the conspiracy until the posts were withdrawn. The prosecution added that as long as the prosecution indicates to the court that it intends to prosecute someone, the prosecution has begun and does not exceed the time limit. The judge will rule on the legal dispute this Friday, and the prosecution will not make an opening statement.

Senior counsel for the defense, Robert Y.H. Pang continued to argue that as early as 1938, when there were no human rights laws and other protections, the Sedition Ordinance already had a mechanism to protect human rights, that is, a six-month prosecution time limit. The court must protect the rights of the defendant, and then he cited British cases. He pointed out that the time limit for prosecution is “to protect the broad public interest.” The defense reiterated that the legislation is to ensure that once seditious publications appear, the authorities can promptly stop them and let the public know as early as possible which seditious texts are not allowed to be published. The prosecution cannot “just wait and see what happens” and then wait for the opportunity to prosecute. Barrister Jon K.H. Wong, who represents three Apple Daily companies, adopted Lai’s statement.

Deputy prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin Hang pointed out that the crime of conspiracy is a continuous crime. The defendant continued to publish at least 160 incitements from April 1, 2019 to June 24, 2021, the day when “Apple Daily” ceased operations. Posts are publicly viewable by the public and not just a post on the first day. Therefore, the six-month prosecution period should be calculated from June 24. Zhou also pointed out that the posts were similar in nature and related to each other, and could be regarded as a “criminal enterprise.”

Regarding the defense’s claim that the prosecution began when Jimmy Lai was brought to court to hear the charges, Chau retorted that it was “impracticable” and ignored the possibility that the defendant escaped or could not be contacted. Chau believes that the date should be calculated from the time when the prosecution submits prosecution documents to the court, that is, December 13, 2021. According to statements made in court yesterday, the prosecution notified the defense of prosecution matters on December 14. In response to the defense’s arguments, Judge Lee also mentioned that the prosecution information was not obtained only after the defendant was brought to court.

Ming Pao

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