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Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul, arrested under the new national security law

The offense was created by a new national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last month. Jimmy Lai’s business partner Mark Simon said the tycoon was arrested on Monday.

Seven men in all, aged between 39 and 72, were arrested, according to a police statement, on charges of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiracy to commit fraud. The statement did not name any individuals, but a spokesperson told CNN that Lai was among them and had been arrested on suspicion of collusion.

“The police investigation is still ongoing and we cannot rule out the possibility of other people being arrested,” he added.

Later Monday morning, a livestream uploaded to Facebook by Apple Daily showed police searching the company̵

7;s newsroom. A police spokesperson confirmed on CNN that the agency had a search warrant to enter the Apple Daily office.

Under the new security law, which was imposed on the city by Beijing last month, the crime of collusion with foreign powers carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Lai has strong ties to Washington and has lobbied for the US to take a tougher line towards China. What he has done to break the law since it was passed is unclear.

This is not Lai’s first confrontation with the Hong Kong authorities. He was arrested and charged earlier this year in connection with a protest march in August 2019. In June, Lai was accused of inciting people to participate in an unauthorized assembly during an annual light vigil. in memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The vigil was banned by the police this year.
Lai’s latest arrest, however, is among the first since the security law was imposed on July 1. The law criminalized subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. At the end of last month, four members of a student-led pro-independence group were arrested for alleged secessionist crimes on social media. Ten people were also arrested during a protest on 1 July.

The Hong Kong government defended the law as necessary to protect national security. It has been denounced by human rights groups, the European Union and the United States as being excessively broad and restrictive of the city’s civil liberties.

On Friday, the United States Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau said in a statement that “we have repeatedly expressed our grave concerns about the effect this ill-defined, vague and far-reaching law would have on Hong Kong. “.
Lai’s arrest also comes as tensions between the US and China over the national security law continue to grow. Washington imposed sanctions on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and 10 other Chinese and Hong Kong officials on Friday for undermining the city’s autonomy.

Newspaper tycoon

A former clothing tycoon, Lai founded Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper in 1995, two years before Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese control. Visually modeled on USA Today, the newspaper caused a small revolution in the city’s media landscape, sparking a price war and drastically changing the way rivals operated as they struggled to keep up with Lai’s tabloid sensibility.

While focusing on celebrity gossip and other tabloids, the paper has emerged from the handover as one of the fiercest critics of local government and Beijing. He has openly supported the pro-democracy movement and anti-government protests, printing flyers and posters on its pages that people can cut out and take to the marches.

This brought 71-year-old Lai to a prominent place within the opposition movement and made him a figure of disgust for the city’s pro-Beijing politicians and media.

Although his influence in the media has likely waned in recent years, along with that of traditional pro-democracy parties, his profile has, if anything, grown, thanks to a Chinese state media campaign to paint it as part of a “gang of four” behind the anti-government protests that erupted last year.
Lai’s proximity to right-wing politicians in the United States – he met with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and then National Security Advisor John Bolton in July last year – was used by Chinese state media to paint the whole protest movement. , along with Apple Daily and similar media, controlled by the United States.

The People’s Daily – the official spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party – said at the time when Lai was part of a quartet of “secret brokers and modern traitors”, while Beijing sought to blame the Hong Kong riots on foreign forces.

CNN’s Isaac Yee and Jenni Marsh contributed to the report.

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