HONG KONG -- Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, has been acquitted of intimidating a reporter three years ago at a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
The 71-year-old tycoon still faces investigation and charges of incitement and illegal assembly related to anti-government protests in 2019 and this year's Tiananmen commemoration, which went ahead without police authorization. Most seriously, police are considering charging him with colluding with a foreign power in violation of the national security law imposed on the territory on June 30.
Under that law, Lai could be extradited to mainland China and imprisoned for life.
Lai previously denied the charge of criminal intimidation over the 2017 incident, where he was accused of threatening a reporter for the pro-government Oriental Daily, a fierce rival of Apple Daily.
In video footage played during the trial, Lai was seen cursing at the reporter after he took photos and videos of Lai at the vigil, according to media reports from the courthouse. Lai said that the reporter had been stalking and photographing him for years and that he confronted him "out of impulse."
The reporter testified in court that he had suffered from adjustment disorder and had been depressed since the incident.
Magistrate May Chung told the West Kowloon Court on Thursday afternoon that there was insufficient evidence to prove Lai's intent to harm the reporter.
Lai's arrest under the national security law and the related search of Apple Daily's offices by 200 police last month drew criticism from Western governments and sparked a wave of local support that pushed up sales of advertisements, newsstand copies and even the stock of the newspaper's parent company, Next Digital.
Speaking after his release on bail in August, Lai said he "never regretted speaking up for Hong Kong's democratic movement" and was ready to "sacrifice everything" for it.