Hong Kong media mogul and leading democracy figure Jimmy Lai arrested on suspicion of foreign conflict.
The 71-year-old founder of the Apple Daily newspaper was arrested Monday morning under new national security laws. Lai had already faced several other charges of organizing and promoting protests last year.
Hong Kong police confirmed that seven people aged 39 to 72 had been arrested on suspicion of collaborating with foreign forces against national security and plotting to commit fraud. “The police operation is still ongoing and does not rule out more arrests,”; the former said.
Chinese state media, CCTV, said seven people including Lai were arrested by the newly created Hong Kong office and the pro-Hong Kong title, Oriental Daily, said there was also an order issued for Mark Simon, Lai’s top aide.
Apple Daily reported that Lai’s son was also arrested.
The arrests come after the United States approved sanctions against senior Hong Kong officials, including chief executive Carrie Lam, and come amid deep concern about Hong Kong’s democratic decline.
Last week’s elections scheduled for September were delayed by a year, presumably due to the pandemic, and the pro-democracy candidates were disqualified.
On Sunday, Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand urged Hong Kong to hold elections as soon as possible.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a joint statement from the “five-eyed” countries they were deeply concerned about the disqualification of candidates in Hong Kong.
“We call on the Hong Kong government to restore the possibility of disqualified candidates,” the statement said. “We urge the Hong Kong government to hold elections as soon as possible.”
He said the security law had “eroded the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people”.
If Lai is charged with external acts of collision, he faces potential sentences of three to 10 years in prison, or up to life imprisonment for a criminal offense “of a serious nature”.
Lai’s company, Next Media, is the publisher of Apple Daily, the largest pro-democracy daily in Hong Kong. Activist Eddie Chu-hoi Dick accused the Chinese Communist Party of wanting to shut down the newspaper, and said Lai’s arrest was “the first step of [a] The end of the HK media ”.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a Chinese academic at the University of California and author of Hong Kong at Brink, said the move may be linked to anger over U.S. sanctions, “but they are also part of the ongoing trend, blow after blow. against the people and institutions in Hong Kong associated with its vibrant civil society. “
He said the current circumstances were potentially more serious than Lait’s previous arrests, which occurred before national security law was enforced when there was “still a separation of powers” in Hong Kong.
“There is a risk, under this frightening new norm, that he could be taken to the mainland for trial,” he said. “Differences between political life and civil society in Hong Kong and continental cities continue to remain, but events like these arrests show that what was once a concern is not quickly, very quickly, becoming a narrow gap.”
National security laws were enacted by Beijing in late June.
Crimes of foreign cooperation involve seeking or conspiring with a foreign country, institution, organization or individual – or obtaining guidance or funding from them – to break government legislation, undermine an election, or impose sanctions against Hong Kong or mainland China . “Provoking by illegal means hatred among Hong Kong residents against the government of Hong Kong or mainland China” is also illegal.
Lai was also among 25 people accused Friday of participating in a vigil of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre.
A report in the confusing media outlet of the Chinese state The Global Times, suggested that Lai is unlikely to receive bail and will face “severe punishments”.