Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong media mogul and founder of Apple Daily who was arrested over suspected collusion with foreign forces last month, was acquitted on Thursday of intimidating a journalist three years ago.
The 72-year-old had denied one count of criminal intimidation during his run-in with an Oriental Daily reporter during the annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park, held to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, on June 4, 2017.
Prosecutors Allege Threats
Thursday's ruling means Lai's criminal record is clear for now, though he still faces proceedings stemming from last year's social unrest, reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper.
Video footage played during the West Kowloon Court trial showed Lai cursing at the reporter, and claiming he would find someone to "mess with" him, after the latter took pictures and videos of Lai.
The reporter testified he had suffered from adjustment disorder – a condition stemming from stressful events – and a depressed mood since the incident. Prosecutors alleged Lai's remarks were threats of injury with intent to cause alarm.
High-profile Arrest Under New National Security Law
Defence lawyers countered by questioning the ethics of Oriental Daily, describing the incident as impulsive "scolding" following years of pressure the newspaper and its employees placed on Lai. Lai is among 13 opposition figures and activists facing prosecution on incitement charges over this year's June 4 vigil, which police had banned citing social-distancing rules in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday's development comes after Lai, along with his two sons and four senior employees of the tabloid-style newspaper known for its scathing criticisms of Beijing, were arrested on August 10 when more than 200 officers raided the Apple Daily offices, sparking an international backlash, the SCMP reported.
He became the first high-profile figure to be held under the new national security law imposed in the city by China, which is aimed at punishing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. Lai was, however, released on bail two days later.
(With inputs from agencies)