In a declaration, Hong Kong police said they arrested seven men between the ages of 39 and 72 on suspicion of violating the security law, without naming the suspects. Police said the operation was continuing.
The arrests come after the U.S. Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and 10 other officials, including Beijing’s envoy to the city, the police commissioner and his predecessor, for eviscerating political freedoms in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government said it would support Chinese countermeasures against the US and called the sanctions “shameless and despicable”
Several executives from Lai’s media group, Next Digital Ltd., were among those arrested on Monday, a person familiar with the situation said. Next Digital is the parent company of Apple Daily, the Lai newspaper founded in 1995 and one of the most widely read media in Hong Kong. The group has thousands of employees in the city.
The police entered Next Digital’s offices shortly after.
Under the new security law imposed by Beijing, collusion with foreign powers carries the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Beijing has branded Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement as a plot by Western powers to undermine the ruling Chinese Communist Party, rather than an outright plea by the people of Hong Kong for more freedoms and the preservation of the territory’s promised autonomy.
The new law gives authorities wide-ranging powers to search premises, electronic devices and seize servers, including from media organizations.
While the law is not supposed to apply retroactively, it was designed to stifle dissent and target Beijing’s enemies. Lai is part of what the Chinese state media refer to as the “Gang of Four” which includes supporters of more freedom and democracy on Chinese soil. He was arrested earlier, most recently in February on charges of illegal assembly and intimidation in a broader context against pro-democracy activists.
The self-taught millionaire is particularly angered by Beijing due to his long-standing relationships on Capitol Hill. Lai traveled to Washington last year to meet with Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The Chinese state media called Lai a traitor and accused him of funding causes in favor of democracy. Lai, who hails from mainland China, became politically active after Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
This is the second time that the authorities have used the National Security Act to directly target activists and arrest them from their homes. Last month, police arrested four people aged 16 to 21 under the law for their alleged role in a group of student activists defending Hong Kong’s independence. The law was also used against protesters during a street protest on 1 July.
During a live Facebook chat four days ago, Lai was questioned about reports in Chinese state media that arrest warrants had been issued for activists outside Hong Kong and whether he believed such threats were legitimate.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Lai replied. “I think they will continue to censor people they consider harmful to the CCP’s international reputation.”
Lai, asked if he would stay in town, was rebellious. “No, I can’t leave Hong Kong,” he said. “My family could leave Hong Kong if the worst comes. I would not leave Hong Kong. “