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Hong Kong Police Arrest Media Mogul Jimmy Lai, Raid Pro-Democracy Next Media

Variety — Patrick Frater

Hong Kong police arrested prominent pro-democracy campaigner and newspaper mogul Jimmy Lai on Monday morning on charges of colluding with foreign forces, an offence under the new National Security Law.

Later in the morning, more than 100 police officers raided the offices of Lai’s Next Media, publisher of the Apple Daily newspaper. The police said they were exercising a warrant issued by a magistrate.

The National Security Law was drafted in Beijing and injected into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, taking immediate effect from July 1, the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kong is designated as a Special Administrative Region of China, and according to a 1984 agreement between the U.K. and China is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy until 2047.

The new law removes the separation between the two jurisdictions by allowing mainland security forces to operate legally within Hong Kong, and by allowing suspects and cases to be moved across the border for trial in the People’s Republic.

Lai was arrested at home. Two of Lai’s sons, and several members of Next Media staff were also detained, and police sources have indicated that they also with to speak to close Lai aide Mark Simon, a U.S. citizen who is not currently in the city. Lai was later taken to the newspaper offices where he was marched by officers with his hands tied behind his back.

Critics of the raid said that the police had not disclosed the contents of the warrant and that officers had exceeded the terms as stated by senior superintendent of the national security department Steve Li, who told reporters that the force would not searching editorial department or interfere with journalistic materials. However, live streamed video showed officers riffling through the contents of the desks of Apple Daily journalists.

Others also said that Lai’s arrest showed that the National Security Law is being given retrospective effect. Police said that Lai was arrested “for collusion with a foreign country, uttering seditious words and conspiracy to defraud.”

“With police raiding a newsroom and a handcuffed editor doing a perp walk, I would say HK as we knew it is already unrecognizable. These scenes are shocking. And shameful,” said Keith Richburg, head of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism department, via Twitter.

“It is the first time the government arrested members of the press under the national security law. They raided offices of a news outlet and created a deterrent effect among the industry. Press freedom and freedom of speech promised in the Basic Law is precarious,” said Hong Kong’s Democratic Party in a statement.

The moves will feed into the growing schism between the West and Communist China.

The raids came just days after the U.S. imposed sanctions on 11 individuals, including Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, for their part in the introduction and enactment of the National Security Law. And they followed only hours after a joint statement from the foreign ministers of the “core Anglosphere” nations (the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which condemned the Hong Kong government for disbarring pro-democracy candidates from elections for the legislative council elections and then postponing the elections by a year.

Later on Monday, Eugene Chan chairman of the board of advisers to government-owned broadcaster suggested that staff should be trained to help them understand the organization’s “role in promoting civic society and national identity.”

 

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