Hong Kong business tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested and his newspaper offices raided by police over allegations of collusion with foreign forces. His case is that the most high-profile arrest thus far under the controversial security law imposed by China in June.
Mr Lai has been a prominent pro-democracy voice and a supporter of protests that erupted last year.
In February the 71-year-old, who also holds UK citizenship, was charged with illegal assembly and intimidation.Chinese state media Global Times on Monday described Mr Lai as “riot supporter” and his publications as having been “instigating hatred, spreading rumors and smearing Hong Kong authorities and therefore the mainland for years”.
The Global Times also reported that two of his sons also as two senior executives of Next Digital had also been arrested. Scores of police were also seen entering the building of his newspaper Apple Daily, searching the offices.
Police confirmed on Facebook that seven men aged 39-72 had been arrested on “suspicion of collusion with foreign forces” and other offences, but didn’t name Mr Lai.
Uncertain future for media network
By Grace Tsoi, BBC World Service, Hong Kong
The sight of nearly 200 cops raiding the newsroom of Apple Daily, the most important pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong , may be a shocking one for several here and a symbol that things are changing rapidly.
One Apple Daily employee told me that his colleagues were calm and had seen this coming when the National Security Law was passed.
Mr Lai has been a really vocal critic of both the Hong Kong government and of Beijing’s increasingly assertive presence within the territory.
For that, China’s official journalism have often branded him the leader of the “Gang of Four” which incites unrest within the city. Beijing was also infuriated when he met US vice chairman Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year.
But while Next Media has often been criticised for its sensationalism, it remains one among the only a few media outlets with an owner who has no business interest in China .
The newspaper, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is already under financial stain. The paper has said it’ll get today’s issue out on time but if its flamboyant owner is silenced it’s unclear whether it’ll survive.
Who is Jimmy Lai?
The businessman is estimated to be worth quite $1bn (£766m).
Having made his initial fortune within the clothing industry, he later ventured into media and founded the newspaper Apple Daily, which is usually critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.
He has also been himself an activist against Beijing’s increasingly tight grip on the Hong Kong . In 2019 he supported the reform protests and took part within the demonstrations.
On 30 June, when the safety law was passed, Mr Lai told the BBC that this “spells the death knell for Hong Kong”.
He warned that Hong Kong would become as corrupt as China because “without the rule of law, people that do business here will haven’t any protection”.
In a separate interview with the AFP press agency , Mr Lai said: “I’m prepared for prison. If it comes, i will be able to have the chance to read books i have never read. the sole thing I can do is to be positive.”
What has been the reaction?
Unnamed sources within Apple Daily are cited as saying the corporate was “arranging lawyers” seeing things as “straight harassment”.
Steven Butler, Asia programme co-ordinator of the Committee to guard Journalists, said the arrest “bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong’s national security law would be wont to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom”.
“Jimmy Lai should be released directly and any charges dropped,” he said.
Wang Dan, dissident and exiled student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, said the arrest “was expected” but “very outrageous because his two sons were also arrested, which was obviously an effort by the authorities to destroy Lai’s will through family ties,” Wang said on social media.
“I turn the international community to require immediate action.”
Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong on Twitter also “strongly condemned” the arrest of Mr Lai.
Mr Wong was last week charged along side quite 20 others over participating during a banned candlelight vigil on 4 June to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
What is the new security law?
Hong Kong has had a high degree of autonomy since it had been returned to Chinese rule out 1997, and its residents have had a far higher level of freedom of speech and media than people on the mainland.
But the law’s key provisions include that crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
It makes it easier to punish protesters, and reduces the Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Source: bbc news