HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai became the highest-profile person arrested under a new national security law on Monday, detained over suspected collusion with foreign forces as around 200 police searched the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper.
Mainland-born Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing.
His arrest comes amid Beijing’s crackdown against pro-democracy opposition in the city and further stokes concerns about media and other freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997. China imposed the sweeping new security law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.
The arrest “bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong’s National Security Law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom”, said Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia programme coordinator.
Ryan Law, chief editor of Apple Daily, a staunch anti-government and pro-democracy tabloid that also does investigative work, said the paper would not intimidated. “Business as usual,” he said.
The security law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Critics say it crushes freedoms, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged pro-democracy protests last year.
Lai had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
Hong Kong police said they had arrested “at least” nine men, aged between 23 and 72, without naming them, adding that further arrests were possible. Suspected offences included “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others, the police said.
Apple Daily, which posted on its Facebook page a livestream of police officers roaming through its newsroom and rifling through files, reported that Lai had been taken from his home early on Monday.
The live feed showed staff being asked to show identity documents. Some executive offices were sealed off with red cordons. The police later wheeled in stacks of empty plastic containers. Lai himself was brought back to the office later, initially in handcuffs.
“We can’t worry that much, we can only go with the flow,” Lai said, before being escorted into a police vehicle.
Police said around 200 officers entered the premises with a court warrant. The law allows police to search premises without one “under exceptional circumstances”, and also allows documents, equipment and financial assets to be seized. The search was finished by mid-afternoon, and police said they had collected 25 boxes of evidence.
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.
Shares in Lai’s media company Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, plunged 16.7pc before rebounding to trade 344pc higher as online pro-democracy forums called on investors to buy shares as a show of support.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2020