Hong Kong’s media tycoon Jimmy Lai was charged under the city’s new national security law on Friday on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, Reuters reported on Friday. The report was first published in Lai’s tabloid Apple Daily. The indictment of Lai, 73, holds significance as he is a vocal critic of China, and a supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement that erupted last year.
Lai is due to appear in court on Saturday, according to Reuters. He could face up to life imprisonment, if convicted, reported the newspaper.
“Beijing wants to get to the bottom of this problem, and it seems they are not yet satisfied that they have achieved the purpose of keeping Hong Kong people quiet,” Willy Lam, a professor of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times.
The development came after last month Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam pleaded guilty to charges of organising, participating and inciting protesters to join an unauthorised protest outside the police headquarters of the city in June 2019. Prior to that, all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers resigned from the legislature together, as a mark of protest against China’s decision to remove four of their colleagues.
Last year, Hong Kong witnessed massive protests, which initially sparked off because of an extradition bill that allowed for provisions to send criminal suspects to China. Even though the bill was withdrawn, protestors continued to agitate, taking over the Hong Kong airport, and storming the Parliament in a backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
Lai is among the last voices that continued to speak out against the Chinese government, since the protests virtually died down in June this year, according to The New York Times. Last year, he traveled to the United States to meet officials including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, lobbying for action against China. He also called for sanctions against Chinese officials.
“The goal is to hold Jimmy Lai, and shut Jimmy Lai up,” Mark Simon, an associate of Lai, told Reuters.
Lai was denied bail earlier this month following his arrest on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses Apple Daily, according to Reuters. He was arrested in August when about 200 police officers raided his offices. The Hong Kong Police later said they had arrested nine men and one woman for suspected offences including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others.
China’s new national security law
The law under which Lai has been charged was passed in June by the Chinese Parliament. The legislation overrides local laws and gives sweeping powers to security agencies. The law was aimed at curbing the pro-democracy protests and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism.
Various countries have criticised Beijing’s actions. On August 7, United States’ incumbent Trump administration had imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials in the territory and mainland China over their alleged roles in curtailing political freedoms and suppressing dissent. New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have scrapped their extradition treaty with Hong Kong because of China’s law.