A leading Catholic philanthropist and pro-democracy campaigner in Hong Kong, media mogul Jimmy Lai, has been detained by authorities over alleged foreign collusion and fraud.
200 police stormed into the offices of Apple Daily newspaper on Monday morning and arrested Lai, along with his son and two executives of Next Digital, the newspaper’s parent company.
Lai founded the two businesses in the 1990s after making a fortune from the clothing retailer Giordano, which he established in 1981.
The arrests mark a significant escalation in Beijing’s enforcement of the new national security law in Hong Kong, which could now see Lai sent to mainland China for trial.
The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, said the “traitor” Lai would now likely face “heavy penalties” under the security law.
The new law, which criminalise seditious or anti-governmental comment, were described by Lai as a “death knell” for democracy.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the British government was “deeply concerned” by the arrest of Jimmy Lai, who holds UK citizenship.
“This is further evidence that the national security law is being used as a pretext to silence opposition,” they said.
Following the raid at Apple Daily, the Hong Kong police released a statement saying: “The police operation is still ongoing and does not rule out more arrests.”
The 71-year-old Lai is a prominent Catholic convert and Church backer.
The South China Morning Post reported that a third of Lai’s USD $60 million donations have gone to supporting the pro-democracy work of Cardinal Joseph Zen, who could now himself be at risk of arrest.
Cardinal Zen is known to have coordinated efforts to untangle the local Church from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is overseen by the Chinese Communist Party.
Previously, Cardinal Zen said he was willing to risk arrest under the new security law: “If right and proper words were considered against the law, I will endure all the suing, trials and arrests.”
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