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Hong Kong expresses dismay over demands for Jimmy Lai's release

Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai (C) was charged Saturday with colluding with foreign powers. File Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai (C) was charged Saturday with colluding with foreign powers. File Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Hong Kong authorities say they are "appalled" by comments from foreign officials regarding Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong businessman and activist, after Lai was denied bail Saturday.

The Hong Kong Department of Justice said foreign politicians were damaging the city's interests by demanding the release of Lai, who also owns local tabloid Apple Daily and was being charged with colluding with foreign powers Saturday, Hong Kong Free Press reported Monday.

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"We are appalled by such open demands for withdrawal of charge and immediate release of the defendant by senior officials in another jurisdiction," the justice department said, while accusing foreign officials of trying to "meddle" in domestic Chinese affairs.

The statement from Hong Kong's justice department comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said charges against Lai should be dropped.

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"Hong Kong's national security law makes a mockery of justice. Jimmy Lai's only 'crime' is speaking the truth about the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarianism and fear of freedom," Pompeo tweeted Saturday.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also took to the social media platform, describing Lai as a "hero" for his "stand for democracy and the rights that were promised to the people of Hong Kong."

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"Today's charges against Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong are an affront to freedom loving people around everywhere," Pence tweeted Saturday.

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Hong Kong prosecutors say Lai used his paper and platforms like Twitter to promote "illegal sanctions" against Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, according to the South China Morning Post.

Last week, the Trump administration blacklisted 14 members of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee -- the body responsible for the Hong Kong national security law. The move drew an angry response from Beijing.

According to the Post, Hong Kong prosecutors said in a 17-page filing Lai colluded with foreign powers. Local authorities also took issue with Lai's following of officials like Pompeo and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Twitter.

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Prosecutors also claimed Lai criticized Chinese leader Xi Jinping and called him "Mao Zedong No. 2," according to the report.

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