Hong Kong media tycoon and staunch democracy advocate Jimmy Lai was one of seven people arrested Monday on charges of violating the new national security law imposed by China.
The newspaper Apple Daily, which is published by Lai’s Next Digital company, said the 72-year-old Lai was taken from his home on suspicion of colluding with a foreign country. The newspaper also said that at least one of Lai’s son’s was also arrested. Hong Kong police said seven men between the ages of 39 and 72 were arrested, but did not identify the men.
Hours after Lai’s arrest, more than 100 police officers raided the headquarters of Lai’s Next Digital company. The newspaper livestreamed the raid on its website, showing officers roaming the newsroom as they rummaged through reporters’ files. The newspaper said Lai was led through the newsroom in handcuffs during the raid.
Lai is the highest-profile figure targeted by the new law since it went into effect in July. Under the new security law, anyone in Hong Kong believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces could be tried and face life in prison if convicted.
Lai was already facing legal jeopardy for his pro-democracy activism. He was one of 15 activists arrested earlier this year and hit with seven charges, including organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies and inciting others to take part in an unauthorized assembly. He and three other activists are also facing charges for “inciting” people to participate in an unauthorized rally in June to commemorate the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Lai has also come under fire in Beijing after meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington in July of last year to discuss Hong Kong’s political crisis. The Chinese foreign ministry lambasted the meeting as a “foreign forces’ intervention.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that he was “deeply troubled” by Lai’s arrest.
“Further proof that the CCP has eviscerated Hong Kong’s freedoms and eroded the rights of its people,” he wrote on Twitter.
China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong has become a major issue in the worsening relations between Beijing and Washington, along with trade, technology, the Trump administration’s growing outreach to Taiwan, and its accusations against Beijing over the coronavirus outbreak, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Beijing sanctioned 11 Americans Monday, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in response to U.S. sanctions imposed last week on Lam and 10 other Hong Kong officials, including the city’s current and former police chiefs, accusing them of suppressing the city’s political freedoms.
The new law was imposed by Beijing in response to the massive and often violent pro-democracy demonstrations that engulfed the financial hub in the last half of last year, and is the cornerstone of its increasing grip on the city, which was granted an unusual amount of freedoms when Britain handed over control in 1997.
Hong Kong authorities last month disqualified 12 pro-democracy candidates, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, from running for legislative seats in elections that had initially been scheduled for September. Lam has since announced a one-year delay to the elections, citing a surge of coronavirus cases.
Four young activists between the ages of 16 and 21 who belonged to a disbanded pro-independence group were arrested nearly two weeks ago on secessionist charges.