Hong Kong businessman Jimmy Lai became the most famous person arrested under a new national security law on Monday.
Lai was accused of suspected collusion with foreign forces. About 200 police officers searched the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper and took away boxes of what they said was evidence.
His arrest raises concerns over press freedom and other rights promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997. The raid came just days after the U.S. government announced economic actions against Hong Kong’s leaders.
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 Steven Butler. He serves as Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
China enacted the new security law on June 30 in what critics say was an effort to answer anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year. Persons arrested under the law can be tried for crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Those found guilty can face a sentence of up to life in prison.
Who is Jimmy Lai?
Jimmy Lai has been one of the leading democracy activists in Hong Kong and a strong critic of Chinese government. He was born in mainland China and left for Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was 12.
In May, shortly after China expressed support for the national security law in Hong Kong, Lai condemned the legislation on Twitter. China’s state-owned newspaper Global Times called the tweets “evidence of subversion.”
The 73-year-old businessman also wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times. He stated that China was repressing Hong Kong with the legislation.
“I have always thought I might one day be sent to jail for my publications or for my calls for democracy in Hong Kong,” Lai wrote. “But for a few tweets, and because they are said to threaten the national security of mighty China? That’s a new one, even for me.”
Lai was earlier arrested in February and April for what officials said was taking part in unauthorized protests last year. He also faces charges of joining an unauthorized event on June 4 marking the anniversary of China’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protesters in 1989.
Last year, Lai met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington at the White House. They met to discuss a bill — since withdrawn — that would have given Hong Kong’s government permission to send criminal suspects to mainland China for trial.
In addition to Lai, Hong Kong police arrested his two sons and several officials from his media business.
Hong Kong police announced the arrest of “at least” nine men on suspicion of violating the new security law. The offenses, police said, included collusion with a foreign country and conspiracy to defraud. Police said they collected 25 boxes of evidence and more arrests were possible.
Apple Daily, known for its anti-government and pro-democracy position, published video on its Facebook page of police going through its newsroom. The video showed reporters being asked to show identity papers.
The paper reported that Lai was taken away from his home early Monday. He was then brought back to the office in handcuffs. “We can’t worry that much, we can only go with the flow,” Lai said, before being brought into a police vehicle.
In a statement, Next Media Trade Union called the search “an extremely rare and serious incident in Hong Kong history.” It said reporters “will continue to guard their posts until the last minute.”
Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung called the search a “third-world” press freedom suppression.
Ryan Law is chief editor of Apple Daily. He told Reuters that it is “business as usual” at the newspaper. And another official added the paper will be published on Tuesday.
“Even if Apple Daily publish a pile of blank paper tomorrow, we would go and buy a copy,” said democracy activist Joshua Wong.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English with information from the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
collusion - n. secret cooperation for an illegal purpose
bear out - phrasal verb, to show the correctness of something
secession - n. the act of separating from a nation or becoming independent
unauthorized - adj. without permission
conspiracy - n. a secret plan made by two or more people to do something illegal
defraud - v. to trick or cheat someone or something to get money
handcuffs - n. a set of two metal rings that are joined together and locked around a person's wrists
editor - n. a person whose job is to edit