In a statement, the Hong Kong Police Force said it arrested seven men between the ages of 39 and 72 on suspicion of violating security laws, without naming the suspects. The operation is continuing, police said.
The arrest comes after the US Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam and 10 other officials, including Beijing’s special envoy to the city, the commissioner. police and his predecessor, for evading political freedoms in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government said it would support China̵7;s countermeasures against the United States and called the sanctions “shameless and despicable”.
Several executives at 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, Lai newspaper founded in 1995 and is one of the most widely read media outlets in Hong Kong. The group has thousands of employees in the city.
The police entered Next Digital’s office a short time later.
Under new security laws imposed by Beijing, colluding with foreign powers is sentenced to life imprisonment. Beijing sees Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement as a conspiracy by Western powers to undermine the ruling Chinese Communist Party, rather than the real appeal of Hong Kong people for rights. greater freedom and preservation of the territory’s promised autonomy.
The new law gives authorities wide-ranging powers to search facilities and electronic equipment and seize servers, including from media organizations.
Although the law is not supposed to have retroactive effect, it is designed to stop dissent and target Beijing’s enemies. Lai is part of what the Chinese state media calls the “Group of Four” comprised of advocates for greater freedom and democracy on Chinese territory. He has been arrested before, most recently in February, on charges of illegal gathering and intimidation amid a more broad sweep of pro-democracy campaigners.
The self-made millionaire is especially fond of Beijing because of his long ties on Capitol Hill. Last year, Lai traveled to Washington to meet with Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The Chinese state media called Lai a traitor and accused him of supporting democracy. Lai, from mainland China, became politically active after Beijing’s 1989 persecution of protesters at Tiananmen Square.
This is the second time the government has used national security laws to directly target activists and take them out of their homes. Last month, police arrested four people between the ages of 16 and 21 under the law for allegedly playing a role in a student activist group supporting Hong Kong’s independence. The law was also used against protesters during a street rally on July 1.
In a live Facebook chat four days ago, Lai was asked about a report in Chinese state media that the arrest warrant was issued against activists outside of Hong Kong and whether he believes that. Such threats are justified or not.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Lai answered. “I think they will continue to censor those they consider detrimental to the CCP’s international standing.”
Lai, asked if he would stay in the city, challenged. “No, I can’t leave Hong Kong,” he said. “My family can leave Hong Kong if the worst comes. I will not leave Hong Kong. “