Media tycoon charged under security law

Hong Kong democracy activist Jimmy Lai suspected of colluding with foreign forces

Publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, owner of the popular Apple Daily tabloid, is the highest-profile person to be charged under the sweeping new national security law that was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June.
Publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, owner of the popular Apple Daily tabloid, is the highest-profile person to be charged under the sweeping new national security law that was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Hong Kong democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, has been charged under the city's national security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, his Apple Daily newspaper reported yesterday, citing a police source.

Lai, an ardent critic of Beijing, is the highest-profile person charged under the sweeping new law imposed on the Chinese-ruled city in June. He was due to appear in court today, according to Apple Daily, a popular tabloid known for its feisty and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong.

The security law, which punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail, has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

The authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say it is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the city over the last year.

Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The publishing tycoon is one of the financial hub's most prominent democracy activists, while his Next Media group is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedoms in Hong Kong.

The authorities have intensified a crackdown on opposition forces in the city, dismissing lawmakers from the legislature, conducting widespread arrests and jailing high-profile democracy activists, including Joshua Wong.

Lai had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he met officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy.

Separately, a 19-year-old was yesterday found guilty of insulting China's national flag and of unlawful assembly.

Tony Chung, who led the now-disbanded pro-democracy group Student Localism, was convicted of throwing the Chinese flag to the ground outside Hong Kong's legislature in May last year.

The incident happened during scuffles between rival supporters as pro-democracy lawmakers inside the legislature tried to prevent the passing of a now-abandoned extradition Bill.

"The actions of the defendant were out of question defiling the national flag in an open manner. The defendant walked back and jumped to throw the flag which made more people able to see what he did," Magistrate Peony Wong said yesterday.

Chung was arrested by plainclothes police officers opposite the United States consulate in late October and had been remanded in custody since.

He did not plead guilty to the flag insult or unlawful assembly, which carry maximum jail terms of three and five years respectively. He will be sentenced on Dec 29.

Chung is also the first person to be prosecuted under the new national security law. He faces a charge of secession under the law, which could land him a life sentence, as well as separate charges of money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content.

Chung's next court hearing on the national security charge is on Jan 7 next year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2020, with the headline Media tycoon charged under security law. Subscribe