The 72-year-old was charged on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security, according to Apple Daily on Friday, citing a police source. He is arguably the most high-profile person to be charged under the law since it was implemented in June.
The national security law went into effect late June 30 after ceremonial votes by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s rubber-stamp legislature. The law criminalizes individuals for alleged acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, with maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
Critics, including Western countries and human rights groups, say such a law would only serve to further threaten Hong Kong’s autonomy and allow the CCP to silence dissident voices under the guise of safeguarding “national security.”
Lai owns Apple Daily, a widely-read tabloid known for its critical coverage of the CCP and the current pro-Beijing Hong Kong government during the past year of mass protests.
The outlet reported that he is scheduled to appear in court on Saturday.
“The goal is to hold Jimmy Lai, and shut Jimmy Lai up,” Mark Simon, a senior executive at Lai’s Next Digital and Apple Daily, told Reuters.
Next Digital is an investment holding company founded by Lai that mainly focuses on media and publishing businesses. It owns Apple Daily. The Next Digital group is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedoms in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong police said in a statement that they arrested a 73-year-old man under the national security law, but did not name him. Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.
Lai was first arrested in August under the national security law, “on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger [China’s] national security, conspiracy to defraud, and other offenses.” Following his arrest, about 200 police officers raided Apple Daily’s newsroom on the same day.
He was later released on bail but police raided his company’s offices in October.
He and two executives of Next Digital were later charged with fraud over accusations that they violated lease terms on office space the company. He was denied bail on Dec. 3.
The mainland-born media magnate had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
Pompeo recently condemned the Hong Kong government and CCP over what he called “political persecution” against Lai as well as three other pro-democracy activists—Joshua Wong and two of his longtime colleagues, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam.
“The use of courts to silence peaceful dissent is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and underscores once again that the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest fear is the free speech and free thinking of its own people,” he stated in a Dec. 3 statement.
“Hong Kong historically benefitted from a free and open system that celebrated the peaceful advocacy of citizens like Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, and Jimmy Lai,” Pompeo stated.
Prominent Hong Kong activists Wong, Chow, and Lam, were handed months-long sentences on Dec. 3 for their roles in a mass protest that occurred in June last year.
Frank Fang, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.