Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai Arrested in Big Blow to Pro-Democracy Camp

Lai and six others including his sons were arrested on Monday morning; senior staff at Apple Daily are under probe.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and his two sons were arrested on Monday under Beijing's controversial new security law for the self-ruled city. Lai was arrested over alleged collusion with foreign or external forces and violation of the national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The city officials are also investigating senior executives in Lai's company Next Digital that publishes Apple Daily, a known pro-democracy newspaper.

Known to be an ardent critic of China, Lai's arrest is being seen as the biggest crackdown against pro-democracy opposition in the city since the implementation of the new law in Hong Kong by Beijing on June 30.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai was arrested by the Hong Kong police on Monday. Twitter

Lai's Arrest Live Streamed on Social Media

According to The New York Times, Apple Daily live streamed the police crackdown on the Next Digital's headquarters on Facebook. In the photographs uploaded on social media, more than 100 police officers are seen entering the office and going through the documents and inspecting cubicles of the reporters working at the outlet.

Next Digital's Senior Executive Mark Simon told the outlet that Lai and his two sons, who aren't associated with Apple Daily, were arrested and being investigated for violations of the company business code. Stating that Lai's private investments were also being investigated, Simon said that the police are also questioning several senior Next Digital employees at their homes.

In a tweet, Hong Kong police stated that so far, 7 people, aged between 39 to 72, have been arrested on suspicion of breaches of the #NationalSecurityLaw. "Offences include collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, Article 29 of the #NSL. Investigation is underway," added the tweet.

Lai's Arrest Leads to Outrage on Social Media

Lai was arrested by the police from his home on Monday morning. On being asked about his arrest by a reporter, a handcuffed Lai said: "What do I think about it? If they have to arrest me, how should I think about it?" The controversial security law makes anything Beijing deems subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable with a possible life sentence.

Lai's arrest led to a huge backlash on the social media, with many condemning the arrest and demanding an immediate release of the media tycoon. "There is something extra perverse when authoritarians round up the sons and daughters of their target as well. Jimmy Lai has shown he's willing to give up his wealth, his freedom, for his convictions. So they go after the only thing that might break him: his children," tweeted a user.

"The Chinese Communist Party and their puppets in Hong Kong continue to silence and intimidate those speaking up for democracy and human rights. The new security law in #HongKong is nothing more than a direct assault on freedom and autonomy," wrote another.

"The "crime" committed by Jimmy Lai is to operate a free press. That will be CCP's excuse to confiscate documents and printing machinery of #appledaily #SOSHK," tweeted a user.

Slamming the arrest, Steven Butler, the Asia programme coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists, said: "It 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."