Hong Kong media mogul and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

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In this file photo taken on June 16, 2020, millionaire media mogul Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at Next Digital’s Hong Kong offices.

ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP / Getty Images

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai became the most high-profile arrest on Monday under a new national security law, arrested for alleged collusion with foreign forces as police officers searched the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper.

Lai, 71, has been one of the city’s foremost democracy activists and a staunch critic of Beijing, which imposed the sweeping new law on Hong Kong on June 30, sparking condemnation from Western countries.

His arrest comes amid Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy opposition in the city, and further fuel concerns about the media and other freedoms promised to the former British colony upon its return to China in 1997.

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This “confirms the worst fears that Hong Kong’s national security law will be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom,” said Steven Butler, the committee’s Asia program coordinator. for the protection of journalists. “Jimmy Lai should be released immediately and all charges upheld.”

Ryan Law, editor of Apple Daily, told Reuters the newspaper would not be intimidated by the raid.

“Business as usual,” he said.

The new security law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces up to life in prison. Critics say it crushes freedoms, while supporters say it will bring stability after protracted pro-democracy protests last year.

Lai had traveled frequently to Washington, where he had met with senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, leading Beijing to label him a “traitor.”

Hong Kong police said they had arrested seven men, aged 39 to 72, on suspicion of violating the new security law, without naming them, adding that further arrests were possible.

Apple Daily, which posted a live feed of dozens of police officers entering its premises on its Facebook page, reported that Lai was taken from his home early Monday. The newspaper said one of Lai’s sons, Ian, was also arrested at his home.

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In the live stream, agents were seen roaming the newsroom, rummaging through files.

Staff were asked to show identity documents. Some executive offices have been cordoned off with red cords. Police then rolled into stacks of empty plastic containers.

Lai himself was taken back to the office in handcuffs later. An Apple Daily reporter asked Lai what he thought of his arrest, and Lai replied, “They have to arrest me, what can I think?”

Police said she had a warrant. The law allows police to search premises without a person “in exceptional circumstances” and also allows for the seizure of documents, equipment and financial assets.

‘BULLYING’

An Apple Daily source said other senior company executives were among those targeted and police were searching their homes.

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“We organize lawyers and so on to defend ourselves. We see it as outright harassment, ”the source said, adding that Lai had been arrested on suspicion of sedition, criminal fraud and collusion with foreign forces.

Shares of media company Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, fell 15.5%.

Prominent young activist Joshua Wong said on Twitter that he “strongly” condemned Lai’s arrest. The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was “extremely concerned”.

Responding to questions about Lai’s arrest, Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang told reporters in Taipei, “China should not treat Hong Kong this way. “

“We always urge the Chinese government to keep its promise and respect Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom,” Su said.

The law has pushed China further on a collision course with the West, prompting countries like Australia, Canada and Britain to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong.

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On major matters in Hong Kong, the central government in Beijing can claim jurisdiction. The law allows officers to take suspects across the border for trials in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

COOLING EFFECT

Lai was also arrested this year on charges of illegally assembling, along with other prominent activists, linked to last year’s protests.

In an interview with Reuters in May, Lai pledged to stay in Hong Kong and continue fighting for democracy even though he expected to be one of the targets of the new legislation.

Before Monday, 15 people had been arrested under the law, including four between the ages of 16 and 21 at the end of last month.

The new legislation has thrilled Hong Kong. Activists dissolved their organizations, while some fled the city altogether, in some cases prompting arrest warrants on their behalf for alleged violations of the new law.

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam, current and former police chiefs in the territory and eight other senior officials for what Washington says is their role in restricting political freedoms in the territory, sparking mockery and condemnation from Beijing.

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Beijing and the Hong Kong government have said the law, needed to close security loopholes, will not affect rights and freedoms and will only target a few “troublemakers.”

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