Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai and raided the publisher’s headquarters Monday in the highest-profile use yet of the new national security law Beijing imposed on the city in June.
“Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers at this time,” Mark Simon, an executive of Lai’s media group and his aide, wrote on Twitter.
Lai, masked and wearing a blue shirt and a light gray blazer, was led out of his mansion in Kowloon by police officers also wearing surgical masks and was taken away.
Hong Kong police said seven people between 39 and 72 years old had been arrested on suspicion of violating the new security law, with offences including collusion with a foreign country, but the statement did not reveal the names of those arrested. The police did not rule out further arrests to be made.
Lai, 71, owns popular tabloid Apple Daily and is an outspoken pro-democracy figure in Hong Kong who regularly criticizes China’s authoritarian rule. Last year, Lai met Vice President of the United States Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House to discuss Hong Kong’s controversial legislation — since withdrawn — that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to China to stand trial.
The national security law came into effect June 30 and is widely seen as a means to curb dissent after anti-government protests rocked the semi-autonomous city for months last year.
Simon said police searched both Lai’s and his son’s home, and detained several other members of media group Next Digital, which Lai founded. It was not immediately clear how Lai or others at the newspaper may have colluded with foreign forces since the law took effect.
Over a hundred police also raided Next Digital’s headquarters in Hong Kong, entering the newsroom and searching the desks. It was not clear what the police was looking for in the headquarters. Simon said in a tweet that the police were executing a search warrant.
At times, officers appeared to get into heated exchanges with Next Digital staff present at the scene. Police also cordoned off the headquarters while the raid was being conducted.
Next Digital operates the Apple Daily tabloid, which Lai founded in 1995, ahead of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China. Like Lai, Apple Daily has a strong pro-democracy stance and often urged its readers to take part in pro-democracy protests.
The security law outlaws secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts, as well as collusion with foreign forces in the city’s internal affairs. The maximum punishment for serious offenders is life imprisonment.
Last month, Chinese broadcaster CCTV said pro-democracy activist Nathan Law and five others were wanted under the law, although all six had fled overseas. Law had relocated to Britain in July to continue international advocacy work for Hong Kong.