China arrests media tycoon Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong for “conspiracy”

China arrests media tycoon Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong for
© REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

Jimmy Lai is the owner of Next Media, the group that owns Apple Daily and Next magazine, two titles that are openly pro-democracy and strongly criticize Beijing.

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested today and authorities are investigating a group’s premises in the name of the new controversial security law in the autonomous region of China, which is being interpreted as a new stage in Beijing’s much tougher policy in the former British Colony.

The 71-year-old tycoon was arrested at his home around 07:00 along with other top Lai media executives.

In a statement, Hong Kong police said seven people have been arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers – one of the offences targeted by the new National Security Act, which was imposed in late June by Beijing – and fraud.

The law, seen as a reaction by Chinese authorities to the pro-democracy movement’s months-long demonstrations since 2019, gives authorities new powers to crack down on four types of state security offences: conspiracies to overthrow the government, support secession, terrorism and illegal alliance with foreign powers.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong denounce the law, which they say kills freedoms in the region and aims to end “one country, two systems”, which ceded the province to China in 1997 and theoretically guarantees Hong Kong citizens freedoms unknown in the rest of China.

For Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, this arrest “reflects that the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government was not intimidated by US sanctions, which are actually pushing Hong Kong public officials further into Beijing.” “In the future, sanctions will also push the hearts and minds of the entire society from Hong Kong to mainland China, promoting China’s unity,” Hu posted on Twitter.

Jimmy Lai is the owner of Next Media, the group that owns Apple Daily and Next magazine, two openly pro-democracy headlines that strongly criticize Beijing. Dozens of police officers were present at the headquarters of the Jimmy Lai group, in the industrial zone of the Loas Park neighbourhood (southeast).

Apple Daily reporters broadcast live footage from the police investigation via Facebook. In one of the videos, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Lo Wai-kung demands that the police show him their search warrant. “Tell your colleagues not to touch anything before our lawyers check the warrant,” Lo is heard to say.

Police ordered the journalists to get up and line up for identity checks, while others searched the editorial office. Lai was taken to a police station. Simon clarified via Twitter that searches were also carried out at the tycoon’s house.

For many of Hong Kong citizens involved in the pro-democracy movement, Lai is a hero, a self-made businessman, the only newspaper owner who dares to raise his head in China’s central government. Few provoke such hatred in Beijing as Lai, whom the Chinese media often describes as a “traitor” and instigator of the 2019 controversy movement.

Allegations of collusion with a foreign power intensified last year when Lai met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Vice President Mike Pence. Two weeks before the Hong Kong National Security Act was enacted, Jimmy Lai assured AFP in an interview that he was “ready” to go to jail.