A Hong Kong media tycoon and prominent Beijing critic has been arrested under China’s new national security law, with scores of police searching the offices of his daily newspaper.
Jimmy Lai, 71, has been one of the leading democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party.
Western countries were quick to condemn Beijing when it imposed the sweeping new law on Hong Kong on June 30, and it was widely believed Mr Lai was among the targets of the draconian new legislation.
On Monday, Police raided Mr Lai’s newspaper Apple Daily's office building, going through documents and searching the newsroom.
“Each week it’s something new. What Beijing is doing in Hong Kong is straight from the playbook of the paranoid dictator,” New York Times Asian-based tech reporter Paul Mozur tweeted.
“It continues to be jaw dropping to watch this global city fall under the pall of China’s hard authoritarianism.”
The details of the so-called national security laws were kept secret until after they were passed but allow Beijing to punish Hong Kong residents for dissent or for protesting, with harsh penalties including jail time.
Each week it’s something new. What Beijing is doing in Hong Kong is straight from the playbook of the paranoid dictator. It continues to be jaw dropping to watch this global city fall under the pall of China’s hard authoritarianism. https://t.co/Xj41UkIgdN— Paul Mozur 孟建国 (@paulmozur) August 10, 2020
Apple Daily, which posted on its Facebook page a livestream of dozens of police officers roaming through its newsroom and rifling through files, reported Mr Lai was taken away from his home early on Monday. He was brought back to the office later, initially in handcuffs.
Apple Daily reported one of Mr Lai's sons, Ian, was also arrested at his home and later showed his restaurant being raided by police.
"We can't worry that much, we can only go with the flow," Mr Lai said, before being escorted into a police vehicle.
Mr Lai’s arrest comes amid Beijing's crackdown against pro-democracy opposition in the city and further stokes concerns about the complete erosion of media and other freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997.
Mr Lai had already been arrested twice this year on illegal assembly charges, along with other leading activists, relating to anti-government protests last year and has openly called for foreign countries to assist Hong Kong.
An Apple Daily source said that other senior executives in the company were among those targeted and they were hiring lawyers.
The Executive Director of the company which publishes Apple Daily, Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, was seen escorted by police out of the building.
"We see this as straight harassment," the source said, adding that Mr Lai was arrested on suspicion of sedition, criminal fraud and colluding with foreign forces.
Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung said the search was "horrible."
"I think somewhere in third-world countries there has been such kind of press freedom suppression; I just didn't expect it in Hong Kong."
In May, Mr Lai spoke with Reuters and said he would remain in Hong Kong and continue to fight for democracy even though he expected to be one of the targets of the new legislation.
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