HONG KONG – Jimmy Lai, a prominent Hong Kong democracy advocate and newspaper editor, was again denied bail Thursday ahead of his trial in April for collusion with foreign forces.

Lai is one of many activists who face charges and possibly long prison terms under the sweeping National Security Law that Beijing has imposed on the semi-autonomous city in southern China. last year following massive anti-government protests in 2019.

Critics at home and abroad say the legislation amounts to a crackdown on political dissent and free speech that erodes the rights and freedoms promised in Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” to following the transfer of British colonial rule in 1997.

Arrested and charged in early December, Lai was first refused bail and then granted on appeal under strict conditions amounting to a form of house arrest. This sparked a scathing attack on the Hong Kong justice system by the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper People’s Daily. Lai was then returned to prison under a provision in the law that allows a judge to deny bail in cases where the person may re-commit the crime for which they are already charged.

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Lai’s last appeal on Thursday to the Hong Kong High Court was based on separate legal grounds. He also faces fraud charges related to the use of office space by his Apple Daily newspaper and other outlets, which reported that he was also arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of aiding dissidents in flee Hong Kong.

Along with Martin Lee, an 82-year veteran of the Hong Kong Democracy Movement, Lai is one of the main critics of the current Beijing-backed government and has long faced legal and trade reprisals for his statements and activism.

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