Beijing’s new national security regime in Hong Kong was used to arrest one of the city’s best-known democracy advocates, with hundreds of police arresting media mogul Jimmy Lai and attacking the headquarters of His diary.
Mr. Lai, a billionaire who enraged Beijing with his outspoken criticism of the Communist Party, was taken to his home in handcuffs early Monday. He is charged with collusion with foreign powers, a new crime under a national security law imposed on Hong Kong on July 1. Police also arrested two of Mr. Lai’s sons and two of his senior executives, Cheung Kim-hung, the general manager of Next Digital Media Company, and Chow Tat-kuen, the company’s chief financial officer. At least nine people were arrested, police said. Mr. Lai is the founder and majority owner of Next Digital, which publishes newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Some 200 police officers were deployed for the operation, which included a raid on Apple Daily, the newspaper he founded. Police seized around 20 boxes of merchandise, Apple Daily reported, claiming officers were also seeking to seize company servers – a move staff tried to block because those servers contained internal information collecting from news. The search continued on Monday evening. A live video feed showed officers interviewing reporters and reviewing documents on their desks.
The arrests marked another milestone in the changes sweeping Hong Kong as Beijing asserts greater control. Over the summer, pro-democracy academics were sacked, legislative candidates were disqualified, an upcoming election was delayed by a year, and publishers and libraries rushed to censor content now considered as a subversive or secessionist. Police banned slogans and songs and arrested youth carrying flags calling for Hong Kong independence.
Mr Lai is one of Beijing’s most hated personalities in Hong Kong, a man who has used his social position and wealth in the service of democracy – unlike other billionaires in the city, many of whom were unwilling. risk the financial consequences of anger. Chinese leadership. Mr. Lai has been called a “traitor” and “evil force” by the press controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. In April, he was among 15 people arrested for organizing and participating in protests – which police called illegal gatherings – that rocked Hong Kong last year. At the end of July, he said he was followed by strangers.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam and 10 city officials. China responded on Monday with sanctions against 11 US officials, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Amid the growing rift between Beijing and Washington, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, which represents the mainland in the city, lashed out at Hong Kong residents whom it accused of celebrating the imposition of sanctions on city officials.
“These people are shamelessly arrogant and have once again unwittingly revealed their own evil purpose – that they are the agents the United States is deploying in Hong Kong, and it is the United States’ pawns that spoils Hong Kong.” , the office wrote in a statement on Monday. .
“These people have completely betrayed and distanced themselves from their country and nationality,” the statement read, adding: “These people are doomed to be indelible on the pillar of shame in our history. “
The statement did not name Mr. Lai, who openly called for Western democracies to support democracy advocates in Hong Kong, including in a May 29 New York Times article in which he announced his own incarceration. and wrote: this new phase of our struggle, we need the support of the West, especially the United States. Last year M.,. Lai traveled to Washington, DC to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
On Twitter, Lai pilloried Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him “the most absolute dictator in human history,” praised Pompeo for his criticism of Chinese leadership and sounded the call. alarm on the law on national security which has now trapped him.
Hong Kong “is under siege,” Lai wrote on July 29. A day later, he said the city was now “worse than China.” Many in Hong Kong share Western values and believe in human rights, “and our dignity instinctively rebels against tyranny,” he said. As a result, he predicted, Hong Kong is seen by Beijing “as Xinjiang and will be treated that way.”
Xinjiang is the region in northwestern China where authorities have played large numbers of people, many of them Muslim Uighurs, in centers of forced political indoctrination and vocational training.
The leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing have sought to reassure the public that the National Security Law will only affect a small number of people who pose a real threat.
But with Mr Lai’s arrest, “the message is clear that this is a law that is not just for spies and bombmakers,” said Michael Vidler, a lawyer from Hong Kong who represented one of the most important democracies in the city. activists.
Instead, it can be used against “anyone who is perceived by Hong Kong authorities to speak out.”
Mr. Lai was arrested 40 days after the National Security Law was implemented.
“It is so sad to see, in such a short time, Hong Kong seemingly collapsing over the abyss,” Vidler said.
The new law is also committed to protecting freedom of speech and the press.
But the arrest of Mr. Lai and other executives, “and the raid on the newsroom, is a direct attack on Hong Kong’s press freedom and signals a new dark phase in the erosion of reputation. world city, ”the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, said in a statement.
“Today’s events raise fears that such actions are being used to erase fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”
Formal charges against Mr. Lai may accuse him of breaking the foreign collusion law. But the “surprise attack” on him, his family and his business “actually reflects the government’s intention to contain and control media and publication freedoms in Hong Kong,” said Wu Qiang, a former researcher. from Tsinghua University who is a Chinese social expert. movements.
“In short, Beijing’s definition of national security leaves no room for freedom, and Beijing wants the people of Hong Kong and the world to hear it clearly.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by The Globe’s editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. register today.