Hong Kong police say 73-year-old Lai, known for his support of the city’s democratic movement and its main criticism of China, is suspected of collaborating with foreign powers to endanger national security.
He is the highest-ranking person charged under a law imposed by Beijing in June. The maximum life sentence is a crime committed in conjunction with a foreign power.
“There is always a price to pay. I have been fighting for (democracy) for many years,” he said, adding that “there is nothing left for you without freedom” and he will continue to do so.
Earlier this month, Loy was denied bail following his arrest on a separate fraud charge. He has been in custody ever since.
Evidence presented to him by authorities during his 40-hour detention after his arrest included television interviews with the international media, which he called for to allow China.
Under the National Security Act, this could mean an alliance with a foreign force.
He denied long-standing rumors that the people did not support the Hong Kong independence movement and that he used money from the United States to overthrow China, although he did support the people’s freedom for it.
The Hong Kong government has upheld legislation needed to bring peace and order to the city. It has been condemned by human rights groups, the European Union and the United States for overstating and restricting the city’s civil rights.
When the law was passed, Hong Kong President Gary Lam said it would “target only the smallest minority offenders” while protecting the rights to life and property and various justifiable fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by the majority of citizens.
At least two dozen people have been arrested on various charges, including one suspected of violating the National Security Act, including one of Loy’s sons. It is not clear what they did to break the law since it came into force.
Joshua Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in prison on June 21, 2019, after pleading guilty to inciting and organizing an unauthorized protest outside the city police headquarters.
Two activists, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, were sentenced to 10 months and seven months in prison, respectively, in connection with the protest. Zhou faced charges related to inciting and participating in the protest, while Lam was accused of inciting opposition.
Reported by Jenny Marsh, Will Ripley and James Griffiths.