Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been charged under the city’s national security law when authorities crack down on violence, local media reported.
Lai, who founded the Apple Daily tabloid, was accused of collaborating with foreign forces and endangering national security, local broadcaster TVB reported on Friday. He is the most noticed person of more than two dozen accused under the sweeping law since it was introduced by Beijing in June.
He is scheduled to appear in court on December 12 and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Police said in a statement that they arrested a 73-year-old man under national security law, but did not name him.
Lai was arrested in August. He and two executives of Next Digital, the company that runs the Apple Daily, were later charged with fraud over allegations that they were violating rental terms in the company’s office space. He was denied bail earlier this month.
Asked about UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterre’s reaction to Lai’s accusations under national security law, spokesman Stephane Dujarric reiterated the UN chief’s concerns about the shrinking civic space in many places around the world.
“The last nail in the coffin”
Beijing introduced the National Security Act in response to protests in Hong Kong that began in June 2019 due to a proposed extradition law and were extended to include demands for increased democracy in the former British colony.
The legislation prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and cooperation with foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. In some cases, those accused under national security law may also face trial in China, where the legal system is very opaque.
The broad legislation sparked more public protests and led to complaints that Beijing was violating the autonomy promised to Hong Kong when it was handed over to China from Britain in 1997. Critics have said the law also hurts Hong Kong’s status as a business center.
The Apple Daily criticized the law on its front page on July 1, calling it “the last nail in the coffin” in the territory’s autonomy.
Lai has advocated that other countries take a tougher stance on China, and last year he traveled to the United States to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the proposed extradition proposal.
He was also arrested in February and April on charges of participating in unauthorized protests. He also faces charges of joining an unauthorized vigil to celebrate the anniversary of June 4, 1989, against violence against anti-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.