Prominent media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai has been charged under Hong Kong’s national security law, local media reported on Friday. The Hong Kong Police also confirmed that a 73-year-old man had been charged with offences including “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” and would appear in court on Saturday.
Lai, an ardent critic of Beijing, would be the highest profile person charged under the sweeping new law imposed on the Chinese-ruled city, the law has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent. Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say the law, which was imposed in June, 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. Lai was denied bail earlier this month following his arrest on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses his Apple Daily, an anti-government tabloid. Apple Daily was also raided by authorities in August, in what is seen as an act of intimidation by authorities.
In an interview with Hong Kong Free Press on Friday, Mark Simon, a close aide to the Lai family, said the latest development demonstrates “the weakness of the fraud charges.” A person convicted of the offences spelled out by the police could be sentenced to three years to life imprisonment, according to the new law, Lai 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”. News of the charges comes as authorities intensify a crackdown on opposition forces that has seen lawmakers dismissed and high-profile democracy activists such as Joshua Wong jailed.