Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested along with six others in his Next Media publishing group, after the police raided his newspaper offices on Monday morning, August 10.
Lai’s arrest, the latest under a new national security law deepens government’s crackdown on dissent, sending a political chill through the semi-autonomous city.
According to Hong Kong police, they had arrested “at least” nine men, aged between 23 and 72, for suspected offences including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others. Further arrests are possible, they added.
Journalists working at Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper took to social media to broadcast dramatic images of police officers conducting the raid.
In the footage the newspaper’s chief editor Law Wai-kwong can be seen demanding a warrant from officers.
“Tell your colleagues to keep their hands off until our lawyers check the warrant,” Law was filmed saying.
Apple’s staffs were ordered to leave their seats and line up so police could check their identities as officers conducted searches across the newsroom.
At one point 72-year-old Lai was present, in handcuffs and surrounded by officers.
In a statement police said the search was conducted with a court warrant which they said was shown to staff.
Ryan Law, chief editor of Apple Daily, told Reuters the paper would not intimidated.
“Business as usual,” he said.
Apple Daily reported that one of Lai’s sons, Ian, had also been arrested at his home and later showed his restaurant, Cafe Seasons, being raided by police.
China supports Lai’s arrest by Hong Kong police, Chinese state media said on Monday, stressing the need to “severely punish” those who collude with foreign forces to endanger national security.
A spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office told the Xinhua agency that Lai was a representative of people who were “anti-China, anti-Hong Kong” and who were a danger that must be removed before there could be peace in Hong Kong.
Lai’s Apple Daily and Next Magazine are unapologetically pro-democracy and critical of Beijing.
Few HongKongers generate the level of personal vitriol from Beijing that Lai does.
For many residents of the city he is an unlikely hero – a pugnacious, self-made tabloid owner and the only tycoon willing to criticise Beijing.
But in China’s state media he is a “traitor”, the biggest “black hand” behind last year’s protests and the head of a new “Gang of Four” conspiring with foreign nations to undermine the motherland.
Allegations of Lai colluding with foreigners went into overdrive in state media last year when he met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence.
Lai spoke to AFP in mid-June, two weeks before the new security law was imposed on Hong Kong.
“I’m prepared for prison,” he said. “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.”
He brushed off the collusion allegations, saying HongKongers had a right to meet with foreign politicians. (Source: CNA)