World

HK media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under new national security law

Apple Daily boss held under territory's new national security law as 200 police officers search the newspaper's offices

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai became the highest-profile person arrested under a new national security law yesterday, detained over suspected collusion with foreign forces as around 200 police officers searched the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper.

Mainland-born Mr Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing.

His arrest comes amid 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 Chinese control in 1997.

China imposed the sweeping new security law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.

The arrest "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 Mr Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia programme coordinator.

Mr Ryan Law, chief editor of Apple Daily, a staunch anti-government and pro-democracy tabloid that also does investigative work, told Reuters the paper would not intimidated.

"Business as usual," he said.

The 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, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged pro-democracy protests last year.

Mr Lai, 71, has met US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a "traitor".

Hong Kong police said they had arrested "at least" nine men, aged between 23 and 72, without naming them, adding that further arrests were possible. Suspected offences included "collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud" and others, the police said.

Apple Daily, which posted on its Facebook page a livestream of police officers roaming through its newsroom and rifling through files, reported that Mr Lai had been taken from his home early yesterday.

The live feed showed staff being asked to show identity documents. Some offices were sealed off with red cordons. The police later wheeled in stacks of empty plastic containers.

Mr Lai himself was brought back to the office later, initially in handcuffs.

"We can't worry that much, we can only go with the flow," Mr Lai said, before being escorted into a police vehicle.

Before yesterday, 15 people, including teenagers, had been arrested under the new law.

In a separate development, China imposed sanctions on 11 US citizens including legislators yesterday in response to the US imposition of sanctions on 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials accused of curtailing political freedoms.

Among those targeted were Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as well as individuals at non-profit and rights groups. - REUTERS

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