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The government has frozen media tycoon Jimmy Lai's personal assets, using new powers available to authorities under the Beijing-imposed national security law for the first time.
Lai is facing three security-related charges, and is already serving a 14-month sentence after being convicted of taking part in unauthorised assemblies in August 2019.
In a statement published on Friday evening, the Security Bureau said Lai's shares of Next Digital Limited and property in local banks of three companies owned by him were being frozen under article 43 of the national security law.
Apple Daily said Lai holds a 71 percent stake in Next Digital.
The Security Bureau did not give any further details about the value of the assets frozen, but said the notice directs that “relevant persons and organisations must not, directly or indirectly, deal with certain property which is reasonably suspected to be related to offences endangering national security”.
It said the Hong Kong police’s national security department had laid one charge of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security against Lai on December 11, 2020. It said two more charges of conspiracy were laid against Lai on April 16 this year.
It went on to say that the Secretary for Security has the power under the national security law to order police officers to seize property if he suspects it may be removed from the SAR.
A former principal firefighter explained to the Coroner's Court on Friday why a safety air cushion had not been set up closer to the spot where anti-government protester Marco Leung was standing before he plunged to his death from the Pacific Place mall.
Chan Che-kin, who was the commander on the ground, said they arrived on Queensway at around 4:50pm on June 15, 2019 and inflated an air cushion outside the mall.
But Chan said they couldn’t place the air cushion on the pavement below where Leung was standing, as there were metal railings in the way.
Chan said Leung, 35, fell to the pavement after 9pm, just in front of the safety cushion.
The former firefighter said he and his colleagues immediately gave first aid to Leung, who still had a pulse at the time, before an ambulance arrived and rushed him to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Chan said he had considered the possibility that Leung could miss the cushion if he fell, given its position.
He said he had thought of removing some barriers so they could place the cushion on the pavement, but had ruled out this option as it would be too risky for his colleagues to do so.
Chan explained that it would take about 50 minutes for firefighters to remove the barriers, and their safety would be in jeopardy if Leung fell down during that time.
He also said the Fire Services Department did not have a smaller air cushion which they could use for the situation.
The retired fireman said given the circumstances at the time, they had done their best to protect Leung's safety.
Asked whether there were smaller safety cushions available overseas, Chan said he understood there were. He also admitted that there had been situations in the past when firefighters could not open an air cushion due to constraints at the scene.
Chan also said his team had not received any messages from colleagues at the mall before Leung’s fall, so they did not know what was happening above them and could not make any preparations accordingly.
The hearing is to continue on Monday, with more firefighters involved in the rescue operation expected to be summoned.
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong told the Coroner's Court on Friday that he regretted not being allowed to speak to a protester before he fell to his death in 2019, saying he believed he would have been able to help if police had let him get involved.
Kwong said he ran to Pacific Place in Admiralty from the Legco building at around 4pm on June 15, 2019 after receiving messages from the public asking him to help 35-year-old protester, Marco Leung.
Earlier that day, Leung, dressed in a yellow raincoat, had unfurled an anti-government banner on a construction platform on the fourth floor of the shopping mall and refused to leave the site.
Kwong said that after he arrived at the scene, he immediately asked a police officer there to let him enter the site and talk to Leung.
He said the officer came back after a while and told him they couldn’t agree to his request, as their negotiation team was on the way.
Kwong said he had stayed in the area from around 5pm to 9pm to observe the situation, but had not been allowed to speak to Leung despite making repeated requests.
The former legislator told the court that as a long-time district councillor and social worker, he had successfully helped persuade people not to commit suicide during similar crises in the past, adding that he had often played the role of a mediator to de-escalate tensions during the 2019 protests.
He said with his experience he believed he would have been of help, had he been allowed to step in.
When asked by coroner's officer Timmy Yip whether he thought it was reasonable for the police not to let him intervene, Kwong said he couldn’t tell, but added that it was a pity.
During the hearing, Kwong became emotional as he recounted the moment he realised Leung had fallen, saying he collapsed and broke into tears.
He said he immediately went to the hospital to check on Leung, and soon found out that he had died.
The ex-lawmaker said he saw Leung’s mother at the funeral, and she comforted him by saying “you already did very well.”
Kwong said the incident had left him with a "big wound".
Coroner David Ko thanked Kwong for attending the inquest at short notice, saying he understood that it could be hard for people to talk about their grief, but sometimes people expressing their feelings can “untie the knots in their hearts”.
Ko added that he hoped the inquest could avoid similar incidents from happening again.
Earlier in Friday's hearing, Sean Lin, a senior police negotiator told the court that the police consider a number of factors when deciding whether to let someone intervene in a crisis situation, such as whether the person has expertise in crisis negotiation, and whether they know the subject.
He said he believed it had been reasonable for the police to refuse people’s requests to talk to Leung that day.
The inquest is set to continue on Monday.
RTHK received a letter containing a white powder on Friday morning, a day after similar suspicious mail was sent to government officials.
The broadcaster said it had reported the matter to the police.
On Thursday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Security Secretary John Lee and Police Commissioner Chris Tang were sent mail containing a similar powder.
The letter sent to Lam arrived on her birthday.
Media reports said the envelopes contained not only the mysterious powder, but also a letter that contained Chinese characters that made little sense.
No one was injured in the incidents.
Police classified the cases as “discovery of suspicious objects”, adding that the powder did not contain any dangerous substances.
Sources told RTHK that the powder was likely to be flour.
A mainland man was on Friday sentenced to six years and four months in prison, after he admitted to stabbing and slashing a 19-year-old student at the Tai Po 'Lennon tunnel' two years ago.
Liu Guosheng, a Guangxi native who came to Hong Kong on October 18, 2019, was originally charged with attempted murder but ultimately pleaded guilty to wounding with intent.
High Court judge Andrew Chan heard that the man, who is in his 20s, attacked the student on the day following his arrival, after he was confronted for tearing down political posters from the tunnel's walls.
The court heard he left the tunnel, but – claiming he couldn’t stand someone destroying Hong Kong – Liu took out a knife and returned to the underpass.
He slit the neck of his teenage victim, who had been handing out protest-related leaflets. Liu also knifed the 19-year-old in the stomach, causing his guts to spill out.
"Hong Kong belongs to China! You bunch are messing up Hong Kong!" Liu shouted as he escaped.
He got into a taxi and asked the driver to take him to Lo Wu so “he would be safe”, but the taxi driver instead took Liu to a police station where he turned himself in.
In mitigation, the defence said Liu, who described himself as a "patriot", had carried the knife because he felt unsafe. He said when he arrived in Hong Kong, those around him held vastly different views, and he felt “as if he was surrounded by gangs of wolves”.
But this was dismissed during sentencing by the judge, who said the defendant had planned to commit the crime as he purchased the knife after he arrived in Hong Kong.
The judge said the victim's life has been destroyed – he suffered from serious psychological distress and had tried to kill himself several times.
Executive Council member and lawmaker Regina Ip has accused Health Secretary Sophia Chan of "lacking common sense" over whether Hong Kong should donate unused Covid-19 vaccines to other places, such as India.
Speaking at a Legislative Council meeting on Friday, Ip said given the relatively low vaccination take-up rate in the SAR, officials should consider donating some doses – which are nearing expiry – to countries in need.
Chan said in reply that the government would liaise with the World Health Organisation to see whether there's a donation mechanism in place.
But Ip was not happy and responded by saying: "You don't have to follow the WHO on everything, use your common sense."
"It's really a judgement call. Do you have to consult the WHO on every decision which comes within your own jurisdiction?" the lawmaker later said to RTHK.
Ip also asked the government whether it would consider providing economic incentives to boost the SAR's vaccination rate, citing as an example a lottery for those who have had a jab in the US state of Ohio, with US$1 million prizes.
To this, Chan said officials would go back and have a think.
Meanwhile, the health minister also came under fire over suspected food poisoning cases at the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp, as pictures of the meals provided went viral on the internet.
Chan said if those at the camp didn’t like what was provided by the government, they could always order their own takeaway meals.
But the only non-establishment lawmaker in the council, Cheng Chung-tai, accused officials of being arrogant, saying they were treating people like "inmates" by giving them sub-standard food from a contractor he said was linked to a food poisoning outbreak in 2019.
But the Department of Health insisted that Danny Catering Services was selected through an established mechanism.
The government had said it may prosecute the contractor over alleged food contamination at the camp last week.
Officials said on Friday that there is a high chance the planned May 26 launch of a long-delayed travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will be pushed back.
Speaking to reporters, Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said Singapore’s transport minister, Ong Ye-kung, had informed him that because the city state is grappling with a surge in Covid-19 cases, there is a high chance the bubble scheme will not go ahead as scheduled.
“He (Ong) shared with me that there are additional measures to be taken by the Singapore government so as to curb the recent increase,” Yau said.
“We agreed earlier on a mechanism on which we will start, resume or suspend bilateral travelling. Now the Singapore minister has told me that there might be a high chance that the bubble arrangement may not be able to resume under the agreed mechanism”.
Under the agreement, the bubble will be suspended for at least two weeks if the seven-day moving average of unlinked community cases in either city increases to more than five.
Yau said officials on both sides will review the situation again early next week, and make a final decision as soon as possible so that people can adjust their travel plans.
The bubble was originally slated to be launched in November last year, but it never got off the ground because Hong Kong suffered a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The SAR government on Friday announced tighter anti-epidemic measures for people flying in from Taiwan, after a spate of Covid-19 cases there.
Instead of home quarantine, arrivals will have to stay at a designated quarantine hotel for two weeks.
Speaking to lawmakers at a Legislative Council health services panel meeting, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the new arrangement will be implemented "in a day or two", after it has been gazetted.
Chan said the new requirement is aimed at reducing the chance of coronavirus entering the local community.
Currently, travellers from Taiwan have to get tested on the 12th day of their home quarantine.
Under new rules, they will have to get tested three times during their stay at designated hotels, and must undergo another two tests, 16 and 19 days after their arrival.
DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat asked whether the government would track down nearly 500 people who arrived from Taiwan in the past month.
Quat said if these people were carrying Covid, they might have been asymptomatic during the incubation period.
Chan said in response that the arrivals would have tested negative at the airport before they were allowed into the community.
The judiciary said on Friday that the chief justice will be in charge of appointing lay members to a planned panel for handling complaints against judges, but judges will still have control over the process.
While complaints are currently handled by the chief justice or court leaders, the judiciary has suggested letting a panel of judges led by at least one High Court judge probe more serious or complex complaints in future.
In a bid to increase accountability and transparency, a new advisory committee – chaired by the chief justice and comprising judges and representatives from society – will then review and advise on the investigations, with the chief justice having the final say.
Less serious complaints will first be probed by the relevant court leaders and reviewed by one or more High Court judges, with the results reported to the advisory committee in a summary form.
At a Legco panel meeting, judiciary administrator Esther Leung said the new advisory body would not have the authority to carry out investigations or make final decisions. She said the chief justice will select members after considering various factors.
"These members shall be free of political backgrounds. The lay members will have extensive prior experience with public and community service, and will also be figures of high credibility," Leung said.
"These complaints of judiciary conduct will require a certain knowledge of judiciary conduct, therefore the judges will make up the majority [of the advisory committee]. There will be quite a sizeable number of lay members appointed to make sure that these lay members can play their role in this committee."
Leung said the judiciary will take reference from the government's appointment mechanisms if any background checks are needed.
Although pro-government lawmakers generally supported the plan, some made clear that they were not entirely satisfied.
Paul Tse said the reforms do not go far enough, with the judiciary still having control of the complaint-handling process.
The DAB's Elizabeth Quat was also concerned about how cases would be dismissed if they were frivolous or vexatious, and what kind of complaints would fall into this category.
In response, the judiciary administrator said matters of wide public concern would usually have been reported by the media and these cases would definitely be dealt with.
Court leaders would also examine the complaints, and consult more senior judges if necessary, she added.
There has been a surge in complaints of political bias made against Hong Kong judges since they started processing cases linked to the 2019 anti-government protests.
After the judiciary rejected some of the complaints, pro-Beijing politicians called for an independent body to be set up.
Infectious disease experts said on Friday that it is important to step up infection control measures and plug all loopholes at quarantine hotels to prevent the spread of mutant strains of the coronavirus which are circulating around the world.
The government has announced that more Covid tests would be carried out on returnees put under quarantine and test samples must be taken by qualified nurses.
Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu welcomed the new requirements but said all sampling should be done inside people’s rooms.
“We need to improve the environmental control measures at the hotels so that the sampling can be done in a safer environment. For example, we need to improve the air change inside the narrow corridors in the hotel and the sampling should be done inside the hotel rooms rather than the corridors,” he said.
Dr Joseph Tsang from the Medical Association added that different testing firms could be deployed to carry out the tests to ensure better accuracy.
His comments came after it was revealed that private laboratory BGI had several testing blunders over the past few weeks, including the failure to detect a patient infected with a highly infectious mutant strain.
“As multiple tests will be done on the returnees, different testing firms can be used to test the returnees at different times. As different firms use different testing agents and methods, they may complement each other to catch the mutated virus,” Tsang said.
Evidence has shown that a man who flew in from Dubai in March contracted a coronavirus variant at a quarantine hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, leading to a cluster of infections in the community.