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Hong Kong police arrest media tycoon, raid newspaper in crackdown by Beijing

Alice Su and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SHANGHAI -- Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken supporter of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, was arrested Monday along with his sons and several colleagues at the Apple Daily newspaper in a shocking assertion of China's power over the city's long-cherished media freedoms -- and a chilling turning point for its independent journalists.

In a dramatic raid, more than 100 police officers swooped into the Apple Daily newsroom, cordoned off cubicles and rifled through papers on desks. Reporters were ordered to stand against a wall. "Stop filming!" an officer barked at one who continued to livestream the raid as it happened.

The arrest of Lai is the highest profile so far under a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing on semiautonomous Hong Kong. Lai, 71, was taken from his home with his sons and then marched through Apple Daily's newsroom with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Outside, police barred several journalists for local and foreign outlets from getting near the building, reportedly saying that only those who had "cooperated with police operations in the past" would be allowed in. Even state-funded public broadcaster RTHK, which was recently forced to cancel a satirical program that poked fun at government policies, was blocked from entering the building.

"This is the stuff of authoritarian dictatorships," said Keith Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong. "This should give lie to the claims that the new national security law is all about protecting Hong Kong from external threats and would only target a tiny number of people. ... This is a dark day for Hong Kong,"

Police said in a statement that as of Monday evening they had arrested 10 people, whose names were not disclosed, on suspicion of breaching the national security law with offenses including "collusion with a foreign country or external elements." Along with Lai and his two sons, several senior executives at Next Digital, Apple Daily's parent company, were arrested during the newsroom raid.

 

Also among the 10 arrested were a freelance videographer and two pro-democracy activists, including Agnes Chow, who was arrested at her home Monday evening, according to local news reports. Chow, 23, was a co-leader of Demosisto, a political party that grew out of the student groups at the vanguard of 2014's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. Demosisto disbanded hours after the national security law was passed.

Chow wrote online earlier Monday that several groups of what appeared to be officers in plainclothes had been following her and standing outside her house in shifts in recent days.

Inside the Apple Daily newsroom, the paper's chief editor, Law Wai-Kwong, confronted police, asking for their search warrant. They pushed him away. One officer pointed a finger in Law's face, shouting that he could be arrested as well.

Many of Apple Daily's reporters were working from home Monday morning and knew what was happening in their newsroom only by watching the livestream by one of their co-workers, said Alex Lam Wai-Chung, a reporter at the paper and a spokesman for Next Media Trade Union, the staff union at Next Digital.

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