Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai and several executives at the media company he founded have been arrested for collaborating with foreign forces, the highest-profile arrests to date under a comprehensive national security law imposed by Beijing a little more than a month ago.
Lai, 71, is the chairman and majority owner of the staunchly pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and its publishing company, Next Digital. Share prices for Next Media rose 300 percent within hours of his arrest as pro-democracy supporters urged each other online to support the company.
Lai’s two sons, Timothy Lai and Ian Lai were also arrested Monday morning for, respectively, conspiracy to defraud and clash with foreign forces. Hong Kong police said a total of seven individuals – including future media executives – were arrested on Monday under national security law for cooperating with foreign forces.
“It’s a combination of charges. Most are being arrested for some sort of conspiracy to commit fraud charges … but it really is just an attempt to decree management after they took top leadership with those charges,” Mark Simon, a senior executive at Next Digital, told NPR.
The vital networks of the subsequent police raid on the Apple Daily newsroom showed about two hundred police officers entering the other Digital building on Monday morning. Police closed the newsroom and searched documents at reporters’ desks as Lai, handcuffed, headed for the building. Police also raided a restaurant owned by Ian Lai.
Elderly Lai first made his fortune in clothing and retail and soon deposited his fortune in a media business, which he decided would help support the then but powerful Hong Kong civil liberties . Welcoming an older generation of activists, Lai is both a political firefighter and a unique figure who commands respect throughout the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong.
That generation includes other pro-democracy lawyers and veteran politicians Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, who were among 15 individuals, including Lai, arrested in April for “organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies.”
Lai’s importance to the Hong Kong business community and his political activism made him a clear target in Beijing’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its control over the region. In May, Lai was singled out by Chinese state nationalist tabloid Global Times as potentially subject to prosecution for subversion over his Twitter account, which he primarily devotes to supporting Hong Kong civil liberties.
“I always thought I might one day be sent to jail for my publications or for my calls for democracy in Hong Kong,” Lai wrote shortly afterwards in a New York Times article. “But for some tweets, and because they are said to threaten the national security of the powerful China? This is a new one, even for me.”
Lai was also arrested in February for attending an illegal assembly and faces additional charges of incitement to join this year’s annual vigil on June 4 commemorating the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
But Lai faces far more severe penalties under national security law, which Beijing enforced on June 30. The law criminalizes what it calls clashes with foreign forces, overthrow, secession and terrorism, with fines up to life imprisonment and possible extradition to Chinese territory in particularly “complex” cases.
In June, Hong Kong chief executive and a number of Beijing-backed officials defended the law, saying it would apply to a very close group of individuals.
But Beijing’s national security law has had a tremendous shocking effect on Hong Kong civil society, particularly in schools and universities, as people self-censor for fear of prosecution.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. In July, four people between the ages of 16 and 21 were arrested in a second wave after being accused of separatism over their alleged links to a new pro-independence political party and statements posted on their media pages. social.