Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested on Monday over suspected collusion with foreign forces under the new national security law in a wide-ranging police operation, the highest-profile arrest yet under the legislation.
Lai, 71, has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing, which imposed the sweeping new law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.
His arrest marks one of the biggest moments in 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.
It “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.
“Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped.”
The new 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 in the semi-autonomous city, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged pro-democracy protests last year.
“Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers at this time,” Mark Simon, a senior executive at Lai’s media company Next Digital (0282.HK), which publishes local tabloid Apple Daily, said early on Monday.
Hong Kong police said they had arrested seven people on suspicion of breaching the city’s new national security law, citing offences including collusion with foreign powers. They were all local men, aged 39-72, it said, without naming them.
Police said the operation was ongoing and further arrests were possible.
Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)