hong kong

Hong Kong’s Media Crackdown Has Begun in Earnest

Jimmy Lai after his arrest. Photo: Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

Evidence is mounting that Hong Kong’s restrictive new national-security law is as bad as its opponents feared.

On Monday, Hong Kong police arrested Jimmy Lai, a prominent pro-democracy news media executive, and raided the offices of Next Media, his company. They also arrested Lai’s sons and several other Next Media executives, and searched Lai’s home.

Police carted away boxes of material from the offices of the company, which publishes the popular independent newspaper Apple Daily, and alleged that Lai was colluding with foreign powers, a charge that could lead to life imprisonment. In total, seven people were arrested.

NBC News has details of the operation and its aftermath:

Following Lai’s arrest, about 200 police raided Next Digital’s headquarters, cordoning off the area, searching desks and at times getting into heated exchanges with staff. What police were looking for in the building wasn’t clear, although they later said they took away 25 boxes of evidence for processing.

Lai, who was arrested at his mansion in Kowloon in the morning, was also brought to the headquarters of Next Digital, where he remained for about two and a half hours before police took him away in a car.

The raid marks a frightening new phase in the rapidly decelerating freedom of expression in Hong Kong, one that Lai himself had predicted.

China passed the sweeping national-security law on July 1, months after huge protests erupted in Hong Kong over a different bill, which would make it easier to extradite criminal defendants to the mainland. Apple Daily, Lai’s paper, encouraged those demonstrations. (Lai had previously been arrested twice this year, accused of joining unsanctioned protests in 2019.)

Under the nationalist Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Hong Kong, which until recently operated with broad independence from mainland China, has seen its independence steadily erode.

The Trump administration, taking an increasingly hard line against China on multiple fronts recently, has sanctioned many top officials over Hong Kong, including the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is seen as a China mouthpiece. But China is hardly backing down. On Monday, it fired back with sanctions of its own, targeting U.S. senators including Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton for “behaving badly on Hong Kong–related issues.”

Hong Kong’s Media Crackdown Has Begun in Earnest