Freedom of the press in Hong Kong: Publisher arrested

Freedom of the press in Hong Kong: Publisher arrested

Critical Hong Kong media entrepreneur and activist Jimmy Lai was arrested under the “security law”. China accuses him of conspiracy.

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, one of the most prominent figures in the democracy movement, has been arrested under the new Chinese security law. The 71-year-old is accused of having secret agreements with “foreign powers”, as an employee Lais announced on Monday. Police raided the offices of Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper. Six other people were also arrested under the so-called security law.

Since the law came into force at the end of June, the authorities have massively tightened their crackdown on the democracy movement in the Chinese Special Administrative Region. The law allows the authorities to crack down on any activity they believe may threaten national security. Violations can be punished with life imprisonment.

The police said in an official statement that seven people were arrested on charges of conspiracy with foreign forces and fraud. Names were not mentioned in the communication. However, a police source confirmed that Lai was among those arrested.

Mark Simon, a close employee of the media entrepreneur, wrote on the short message service Twitter that Lai had been arrested at his house early in the morning. Several employees of Lais media group were also taken away by the police. From Apple Daily, reporters transmitted video recordings showed how dozens of policemen combed the editors. According to Simons, Lai’s private property and the house of Lai’s son were also searched.

Lai had said in June – before the so-called security law came into force – that he was “prepared for prison”. In the interview at the time, he also emphasized that he did not regret his support for the pro-democratic protests. He called the so-called security law the “death knell for Hong Kong”. Lai rejected allegations of illegal cooperation with foreign countries. Hong Kongers have the right to meet with foreign politicians, he said.

The so-called security law was the reaction of the Beijing leadership to the months-long and sometimes violent protests by the Hong Kong democracy movement last year. The law severely restricts civil rights in Hong Kong and represents the heaviest Chinese encroachment to date on the autonomy rights of the former British crown colony. When Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, it was granted special rights for 50 years, including freedom of expression and assembly.

In addition to Apple Daily, Lai also owns Next Magazine. Both publications support the democracy movement and are decidedly critical of the central government in Beijing. Even before the so-called Security Act, Lai had been charged with participating in the democracy protests. Last week, he and two dozen other activists were charged with holding an unauthorized vigil to commemorate the 1989 crackdown on protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The Chinese state media have described Lai as a “traitor” and puller behind the protests of the democracy movement. For many people in Hong Kong, however, he is a hero. The combative self-made man is the only magnate in the city who has openly opposed Beijing.

Lai came to Hong Kong from mainland China at the age of twelve, fleeing communists. He worked his way up from a humble background. He founded the immensely successful textile company Giordano and became a very rich man. After the Chinese authorities shut down Giordano on the mainland, Lai sold the company and got into the media business. His political activism began after the crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.

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