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Hong Kong police arrest media tycoon, 8 others under new security law

Hong Kong police arrest media tycoon, 8 others under new security law
Jimmy Lai (C), media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily, is escorted by police after he was arrested at his home in Hong Kong on Monday. Photo by Vernon Yuen/EPA-EFE

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Police in Hong Kong on Monday raided the offices of local newspaper Apple Daily and arrested several people, including the media organization's outspoken pro-democracy founder Jimmy Lai under a new controversial national security law.

Samuel Chu, a Hong Kong activist and managing director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, and Mark Simon, a senior aide to Lai's Next Digital group, confirmed on Twitter that the 71-year-old media tycoon had been arrested.

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"Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers," Simon said.

The Hong Kong Police Force said it has arrested nine people between the ages of 39 and 72 on Monday on suspicion of breaching the new national security law that went into effect early last month criminalizing acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign powers to undermine the national security of the People's Republic of China in Hong Kong.

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Specifically, police said the offenses include collusion with a foreign country or external elements.

"Operation is still ongoing," the force said via Twitter, after earlier saying it had only arrested seven.

Police officers also raided the Apple Daily offices in Tseung Kwan O in accordance with a warrant issued by a magistrate to gather evidence, police said in a statement published on Facebook.

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Apple Daily reported that nearly 200 officers arrived at its building around 10 a.m. and that Lai's sons Timothy and Ian, along with several senior management of Next Media, were arrested.

Simon said police searched the homes of Lai and at least one of his sons and executed a warrant for the newsroom floor of Apple Daily.

"Other members of the group have been detained or taken in for questioning," Simon said.

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Nathan Law, a Hong Kong activist and former politician, identified one of those arrested Agnes Chow, a prominent activist of the pro-democracy moment.

"It is a devastating move from the Chinese govt that they want to silence the voice of resistance in Hong Kong," Law tweeted. "I urge the world to keep an eye on what's happening."

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Law said she had been charged for inciting secession, adding that police searched her home.

ITV News reported that Wilson Li, a freelance reporter for the British television network, and activist Andy Li were also among the nine arrested on the suspicion of collusion with foreign powers.

"We confirm that Wilson Li works for ITV News in a freelance capacity," a spokesperson with the news organization said. "We are concerned to hear of his arrest and are urgently seeking clarification of the circumstances."

More than a dozen people have been arrested under the new law since it went into effect but mostly for waving pro-Hong Kong independence banners or chanting such slogans. Four student protesters were arrested late last month on accusations that they created an online organization to unite pro-democracy activists.

Lai, however, is the first household name to be arrested under the law, and his arrest is expected to attract the condemnation of rights groups and Western nations that have previously voiced anger and concern over Beijing's imposition of the draconian national security law on Hong Kong over fears it would be used to punish dissidents, critics and media organizations.

"The arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong's national security law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom," Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia program coordinator, said in a statement. "Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped."

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Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy student activist in Hong Kong, described the police action as "the end of press freedom" and "the darkest day of journalists" in Hong Kong.

"I strongly condemn the latest arrest of Jimmy Lai," he tweeted.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong described the arrests and the raid on Apple Daily in a statement as "a dark new phase in the erosion of the city's global reputation."

The organization said police blocked local and international media outlets from a press briefing at the Apple Daily headquarters and quoted police at the scene as saying "only those who've not been obstructing police in the past" were allowed to participate in the media conference.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he was "deeply troubled" by the arrest of Lai, calling it further proof that the Chinese Communist Party "has eviscerated Hong Kong's freedoms and eroded the rights of its people."

The United States' top diplomat has described the law as the "death knell" for the former British colony's autonomy from mainland China, and he joined the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain on Sunday stating they are "gravely concerned" over Hong Kong's recent decision to postpone Legislative Council elections by a year and to disqualify 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the contest.

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Late last week, the United States imposed sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other officials the Trump administration blames with helping Beijing to implement the national security law.

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