Hong Kong Media Tycoon Arrested in Latest Blow to Democracy Camp

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Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon and prominent democracy activist Jimmy Lai under a national security law passed in late June for allegedly colluding with foreign forces.

Lai was shown handcuffed as he was taken away by officers from his home on Monday morning, according to a live feed. He didn’t answer questions from reporters who had quickly assembled.

Police said that seven people ages 39 to 72 had been arrested on suspicion of “breaches” of the security legislation, with offenses including collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. An investigation is underway, it said. While the force didn’t name any of the people arrested, Lai is 72 years old.

@hkpoliceforce

#BREAKING: So far, 7 people, aged between 39 to 72, have been arrested on suspicion of breaches of the #NationalSecurityLaw. Offences include collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, Article 29 of the #NSL. Investigation is underway.3:27 AM · Aug 10, 2020

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The arrest was reported by Apple Daily, the flagship newspaper under Lai’s media network Next Digital Ltd., as well as local news channel TVB. Others taken in included Lai’s two sons and other top members of Next Digital, Oriental Daily reported, citing unidentified people.

Next Digital Group Director Mark Simon tweeted mid-morning that police were at the Apple Daily building executing a search warrant on the newsroom floor. Apple Daily reported that nearly 200 officers were entering their offices.

Shares in Next Digital fell as much as 16.7% to the lowest level on record Monday morning following reports of the arrests.

What Are the New Laws China Has Passed for Hong Kong?: QuickTake

China has called the sweeping security legislation, which bars subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the heads of its most outspoken critics. It has prompted fears among activists and foreign governments that it will be used to silence basic freedoms in the city.

“With the passage of the national security law, Beijing has launched a full-blown rectification of Hong Kong,” said Carl Minzner, a law professor at Fordham Law School and author of “End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise.” “The ultimate goal is the ‘mainland-ization‘ of Hong Kong — welding it more tightly to China and neutering all political and social elements that Party authorities view as problematic.”

The U.S. has led foreign governments in expressing concern over the security law, saying Hong Kong could no longer be considered sufficiently autonomous from the mainland. It has revoked some special trading privileges, which help underpin the city’s reputation as an international business hub, and sanctioned Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as well as other officials last week.

‘Gravely Concerned’

The Trump administration also reacted strongly after Hong Kong barred a dozen pro-democracy lawmakers from campaigning for office and then delayed by one year legislative elections scheduled for September. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, is meeting in Beijing is expected to discuss issues arising from postponement of Hong Kong’s election this week.

It wasn’t clear whether four sitting lawmakers who were disqualified from campaigning for the election would be allowed to remain for the legislature’s extended term. The South China Morning Post reported Monday, citing sources, that they would be allowed to stay after Lam told the central government that they should extend the terms of all legislators.

In a joint statement over the weekend by the countries making up the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the foreign ministers of the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand said they were “gravely concerned” by the disqualifications and election postponement.

“These moves have undermined the democratic process that has been fundamental to Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” the statement said. “We express deep concern at Beijing’s imposition of the new National Security Law, which is eroding the Hong Kong people’s fundamental rights and liberties.”

Arrest Condemned

Lai’s media group and Apple Daily backed the protests for meaningful elections that rocked the city last year, but it’s been years since he was seen as playing a central role in Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

He was arrested in February on suspicion of participating in an unlawful assembly in 2019 and intimidating a reporter two years before that, and granted police bail. In June, he was summoned to a Hong Kong court for helping incite a June 4 vigil marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent activists, said on Twitter that he strongly condemns Lai’s arrest.

@joshuawongcf

I strongly condemn the latest arrest of @JimmyLaiApple.Samuel Chu 朱牧民@samuelmchuNOW: @JimmyLai, outspoken pro-democracy activist and owner of opposition newspapers @AppleDaily, has been arrested for “colluding with foreign powers” under the #NationalSecurityLaw in Hong Kong.1:38 AM · Aug 10, 2020 from Wan Chai District, Hong Kong

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Hong Kong made its first arrests under the law — of a handful of protesters — the day after it was handed down. Lam has defended the national security law and called it the “most important” development in relations between Hong Kong and Beijing since the city’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

Authorities also used the security law to arrest four young people for comments made online about Hong Kong independence while issuing arrest warrants for six overseas activists. They included Nathan Law, who fled Hong Kong as the law was being enacted, and Samuel Chu, who runs a Hong Kong advocacy group in the U.S.

— With assistance by Karen Leigh, and Kari Soo Lindberg

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