In a statement, the Hong Kong Police Force said it had arrested seven men between the ages of 39 and 72, on suspicion of violating security law, without naming the suspects. Police said the operation was ongoing.
The arrests come after the US Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other officials, including Beijing’s envoy to the city, police commissioner and his predecessor, for evading political freedoms. in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government said it would support Chinese measures against the United States and called the sanctions “shameless and contemptible.”;
Several executives at Lait media group Next Digital Ltd. were among those arrested Monday, said a person familiar with the situation. Next Digital is the parent company of Apple Daily, the Lai newspaper founded in 1995 and one of the most widely read media in Hong Kong. The group has thousands of staff in the city.
Police entered the offices of Next Digital shortly afterwards.
Under the new security law enacted by Beijing, clashes with foreign powers carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Beijing has called the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement a conspiracy by Western powers to undermine the ruling Chinese Communist Party, rather than a genuine call by Hong Kong people for greater freedom and the preservation of promised territorial autonomy.
The new law gives authorities broad powers to search premises, electronic devices and capture servers, including from media organizations.
Although the law is not intended to be applied retroactively, it was created to deceive opposition and target Beijing’s enemies. Lai is part of what the Chinese state media calls the “Fourth Gang” that includes supporters of greater freedoms and democracy in Chinese territory. He has been arrested earlier, most recently in February on charges of illegal mounting and intimidation amid a wider purge against the pro-democracy campaign.
The self-made millionaire is especially fond of Beijing because of his long relationship on Capitol Hill. Lai traveled to Washington last year to meet with Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Chinese state media have called Lai a traitor and accuse him of bankrupting the causes of democracy. Lai, who is from mainland China, became politically active after Beijing’s 1989 attack on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
This is the second time authorities have used national security law to directly target activists and arrest them from their homes. Last month, police arrested four people between the ages of 16 and 21 under the law for their alleged role in a group of student activists defending Hong Kong independence. The law was also used against demonstrators in a street protest on July 1st.
During a live Facebook conversation four days ago, Lai was asked about reports in Chinese state media that arrest warrants had been issued for activists outside Hong Kong, and whether he believed such threats were legitimate.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Lai replied. “I think they will continue to censor people they consider harmful to the CCP’s international stance.”
Lai, asked if he would stay in town, was deficient. “No, I can not leave Hong Kong,” he said. “My family can leave Hong Kong if it gets worse. I would not leave Hong Kong.”