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Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

Photo from Apple Daily's Twitter account.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a prominent supporter of the city's pro-democracy protests, was arrested in the early morning of August 10 for “colluding with foreign forces,” which is a violation of the new national security law.

Lai is the founder of Next Digital, which owns Apple Daily News and Next Magazine. His two sons, who are not in the media business, and four other top members of his news corporation were also arrested under the draconian law. His personal assistant, Mark Simon, is currently aboard is wanted by the Hong Kong police.

Upon the the arrest, about two hundred police officers raided the office building of the two news outlets in Tseung Kwan O.

The incident has drawn the attention of international media and NGOs. Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson reacted on Twitter:

Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement:

The arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai 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…Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped.

During the raid, the police sealed off Apple Daily's building and barred journalists from other news organizations from entering:

Apple Daily’s reporters live-streamed the police raid from inside the office. The video showed Jimmy Lai and executive director of Next Media Cheung Kim-hung being handcuffed and escorted back to the building during the search.

An internal message circulating among Apple Daily’s staff stated that the search warrant did not include reporting materials, but according to a police press briefing, officials went through the newsroom's desks and have taken away 25 boxes of evidence after a four-hour search.

When attempting to monitor the police operation, the paper’s chief editor Law Wai-kwong was threatened:

While people in Hong Kong had anticipated that freedom of speech would shrink under the national security law, the arrest of Jimmy Lai’s two sons has sent shockwaves through the city. A Twitter user posted photos of police searching Lai’s second son Lai Yui Yan’s restaurant:

Wang Dan, an exile mainland Chinese activist, expressed outrage at the arrest of Jimmy Lai’s sons:

While mass mobilization has become extremely difficult under the national security law and the COVID-19 lockdown, some Hongkongers have found ways to express their support to Apple Daily News by buying stocks of Next Digital.

At around 3 p.m., the stock price of Next Digital increased 300 percent in relation to the previous day and later leveled back to 187 percent as the market closed.

Jimmy Lai has been a critic of Beijing since the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, after which he started in the publishing business. He has sponsored major pro-democracy political parties in Hong Kong and, in 2014, joined the front-line activists of the pro-democracy Umbrella Protests.

Lai had already been arrested in February and April 2020 on charges of attending unauthorized assemblies in 2019 and 2020. This time, the charge of “colluding with foreign forces” under the national security law could lead to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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