Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under security law
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested for allegedly breaching the city’s new national security law in the most high-profile detention since the legislation was imposed by Beijing in June.
Six others, including one of Mr Lai’s sons and other executives of Next Digital, Mr Lai’s media group, were also detained by the police on Monday morning, according to Mark Simon, a close aide to the entrepreneur.
Mr Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper released photos and live video showing scores of officers filing into Next Digital’s high-rise offices and beginning their searches.
The police said they had arrested seven men on suspicion of committing crimes including colluding with foreign countries or forces to endanger national security. They did not release the names of the arrested individuals.
The Hong Kong government has cracked down on local activists after the national security law came into force, through arrests or by barring pro-democracy candidates from running in local elections.
The US and aligned countries have condemned the Hong Kong and Chinese governments over the law. US President Donald Trump last week sanctioned 11 officials, including Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive. He had previously withdrawn the city’s special trading status, which exempted the territory from sanctions applied to mainland China.
Foreign ministers of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network, which comprises the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, on Monday issued a joint letter sharply criticising Hong Kong officials for postponing legislative elections and disqualifying pro-democracy candidates.
Ms Lam delayed the poll scheduled on September 6, citing the coronavirus pandemic. But critics allege the decision was more closely driven by politics than the health crisis. Authorities have also disqualified at least a dozen pro-democracy candidates from running.
“Beijing promised autonomy and freedoms under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle to the Hong Kong people in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty, and must honour its commitments,” said the letter.
China has previously accused Mr Lai of endangering national security after he met US vice-president Mike Pence last year and secretary of state Mike Pompeo in July 2019. Beijing accuses him of being one of the masterminds behind Hong Kong’s anti-government protests.
Mr Lai was arrested on suspicion of “collaborating with foreign forces”, according to Mr Simon. The crime carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment. Mr Lai was already facing other criminal charges related to illegal assembly and intimidating a reporter. He has pleaded not guilty to intimidating a reporter and is expected to plead not guilty to illegal assembly.
The decision by the Five Eyes to issue a joint condemnation of Beijing and Hong Kong authorities highlights an increasing willingness among its members to extend the group’s activities beyond intelligence sharing. Finance ministers of the group recently held joint talks about coordinating economic recovery and global supply chains in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Heightened tensions with Beijing are encouraging closer diplomatic co-operation, say analysts.
“China’s intensifying pressure on Hong Kong, alongside its assertive policies in other areas, has driven the Five Eyes governments closer together. What was an intelligence alliance is starting to look more like a united front to call out and push back against Beijing’s transgressions,” said Ben Bland, analyst at Lowy Institute.