Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested under the controversial national security law imposed by China, AFP reported on Monday. He is suspected of colluding with foreign forces.
“They arrested him at his house at about 7 am,” Mark Simon, an executive at Lai’s media firm Next Digital, told AFP. “Our lawyers are on the way to the police station.” Simon said other members of Lai’s media group were also taken into custody. The police entered the company’s building to search the offices, according to local media reports.
However, the police have not yet confirmed Lai’s arrest. The police said seven people were arrested on Monday for allegedly violating the national security law.
Lai ventured into the media business when he founded the newspaper Apple Daily in 1995. The tabloid is known for its criticism of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership. Lai has been one of the most vocal critics of China. In 2019, he supported the widespread protests and even participated in some of the demonstrations.
The Chinese state media dubbed him a “riot’s mastermind” who “has spread waves of hatred and negative information about the Chinese mainland day and night”. It also called him a traitor and the head of a new “Gang of Four” which is conspiring with foreign nations. Lai was arrested and charged with illegal assembly and intimidation in February but was granted bail later.
The 71-year-old business tycoon also holds British citizenship. His case is the first instance of arrest where the person holds foreign citizenship, according to BBC.
Lai had even predicted his arrest after the new security law was passed. “I’m prepared for prison,” he had told AFP in an interview. “If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven’t read. The only thing I can do is to be positive.” On June 30, Lai had told BBC that the new law “spells the death knell for Hong Kong”.
The new security law
In June, China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, the National People’s Congress, passed a national security legislation for Hong Kong that would override local laws and give sweeping powers to security agencies. The unprecedented law is aimed at curbing protests – which rocked Hong Kong last year – and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism. The new law will also allow China’s security personnel to operate in Hong Kong.
Under the new law, certain political views and symbols, including those showing support for the independence of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet from China, are now illegal. Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing have said the law is vital to plug gaps in national security exposed by the protests.
Four countries – New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom – suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong earlier this month, in moves to oppose the law.