Prominent media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai appeared in court on Saturday to faces charges of colluding with foreign forces.
The 73-year-old Lai struggled to walk as he was led to court in handcuffs and metal chain by two masked police officers.
Former Legislative Council members, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, as well as a few protesters, showed up in court to express their support for Lai.
Lai’s main charge is colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security when he called for sanctions against Hong Kong authorities and China from July to December this year.
Prosecutors told the court that their main evidence in the case is Lai’s Twitter account, in which he expressed his political views – something that legal experts pointed out is protected speech.
Prosecutors asked the court to adjourn the case until April 16, 2021, saying that police need time to read thousands of Lai’s social media posts and review interviews he has given to the media.
Lai’s defence lawyer, Peter Duncan, asked the court to grant his client bail to avoid unnecessary detention, but the judge, who is handpicked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam rejected the request.
Lai, an ardent critic of Beijing, is the highest-profile person charged under a sweeping new national security law imposed on the Chinese-ruled city in June.
The security law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
It has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing defended the law, which was imposed in June, saying it is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes-violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the city during the last year.
Lai was denied bail earlier this month following his arrest on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses his Apple Daily, an anti-government tabloid.
Apple Daily was also raided by authorities in August, in what is seen as an act of intimidation by authorities.
Lai had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong court acquitted on Saturday political activist Andy Chan, who has been charged by police for unlawful assembly and for assaulting police in July.
The court in Kowloon said the prosecution failed to prove that Chan, the founder of the now banned Hong Kong National Party, was involved in the protest mentioned by police.
Chan was detained last year while he was on his way to speak at a conference in the Japanese capital, Tokyo.