Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been charged under the city’s draconian national security law as authorities step up crackdown on dissent.
Mr. Lai, 73, who founded the Apple Daily newspaper, was charged on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security, and could face a lengthy jail term.
He is the most high-profile person out of more than two dozen charged under the sweeping law since it was imposed by Beijing in June.
Mr. Lai was originally arrested under the law in August after a police raid on Apple Daily’s head office, but was released on bail.
However, he has been in custody since December 02, after being denied bail on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses the newspaper. He will appear in court on Saturday.
Mr. Lai also holds UK citizenship and a spokesman for PM Boris Johnson said on Friday that the UK remained “deeply concerned about the Hong Kong authorities’ focus on pursuing legal cases against pro-democracy figures like Jimmy Lai”.
One of the city’s most prominent supporters of the pro-democracy movement, Mr. Lai is estimated to be worth more than US$1bn (£766m). Having made his initial fortune in the clothing industry, he later ventured into media and founded Next Digital.
Next Digital publishes Apple Daily, a well-read tabloid which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.
In a local media landscape increasingly fearful of Beijing, Mr. Lai is a persistent thorn for China – both through his publications and writing.
It has seen him become a hero for many residents in Hong Kong but on the mainland he is viewed as a traitor who threatens Chinese national security.
Interviewed by the BBC before his arrest earlier in December, he said he would not give in to intimidation.
“If they can induce fear in you, that’s the cheapest way to control you and the most effective way and they know it. The only way to defeat the way of intimidation is to face up to fear and don’t let it frighten you.”
Meanwhile US-based news network Bloomberg reported that its Beijing-based staff member Haze Fan was being held by the Chinese authorities on suspicion of endangering national security.
Ms. Fan, a Chinese citizen, had been missing since Monday when she was seen being escorted from her apartment by plain-clothes security officials. Her detention was confirmed on Thursday. A Bloomberg spokesperson said they were “very concerned for her”.
In a separate case in Hong Kong earlier, teenage activist Tony Chung was convicted of desecrating the Chinese flag and unlawful assembly. He could now be facing up to five years in prison.
Chung, the leader of a now disbanded pro-democracy group, is also the first public political figure to be prosecuted under the national security law. He faces a charge of secession, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
China has accelerated its crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition since the law was imposed in June, with legislators disqualified and dozens of activists charged or investigated.
Three prominent activists including Joshua Wong were jailed earlier this month for their part in pro-democracy protests in 2019. (Source: BBC)