Apple Daily reported that several police officers from the police’s crime unit showed up at Lai’s private residence in Ho Man Tin, a residential area in Kowloon, at around 7:30 a.m. local time.
At the time, Lai was doing his morning exercises. The police then took him away in a police vehicle to Kowloon City Police station for questioning.
According to Apple Daily, Lai was accused of taking part in a parade to protest against the now fully-withdrawn extradition bill on Aug. 31 last year.
According to other Hong Kong media and pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, Lai’s arrest also had to do for his alleged intimidation of a reporter during a June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary event in 2017.
Lai, a self-made millionaire, is chairman of Next Media, which owns several publications including Apple Daily—one of the most widely read papers in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Apple Daily is known for its editorial stance critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and supportive of Hong Kong protests, which began in June last year over the extradition bill as locals feared it would threaten the city’s judicial autonomy. The protests have since evolved into calls for greater democracy.
In July last year, Lai met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington. According to a statement from the State Department, Pompeo and Lai discussed the extradition bill and Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) took to Twitter to condemn Lai’s arrest.
“My friend Jimmy Lai, brave voice for free speech & basic rights in #HongKong, was arrested just hours ago by #Beijing puppet government. Transparent attempt to silence pro-democracy voices,” the senator wrote.
Hawley added: “While #coronavirus ravages China, repression is Beijing’s priority.”
Two Other Arrests
Aside from Lai, two other pro-democracy campaigners were also arrested by police.
Hong Kong’s Democratic Party wrote on its official Facebook page that Yeung Sum, the party’s former chairman and a former member of the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), was taken away by police on Friday morning.
The Democracy Party stated that Yeung was also accused of taking part in an “illegal assembly” on Aug. 31 last year. It added that Yeung’s arrest is an act of “revenge” by Hong Kong authorities.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), a pro-democracy labor and political group, announced on Facebook that its secretary-general Lee Cheuk-yan was arrested by police around 7 a.m. local time.
HKCTU stated that Lee was accused of taking part in an “illegal assembly and parade” on Aug. 31 last year.
“HKCTU strongly condemns the Carrie Lam-led administration for its evil act of settling a political score,” HKCTU wrote. It demanded that all three of those arrested be immediately released.
“The greater the suppression, the greater the protest will be,” HKCTU concluded.
Figo Chan, a vice convener of the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), took to his Facebook to voice his concern over the arrest of the three activists.
CHRF, who organized several massive parades last year, was originally planning an assembly and parade on Aug. 31 but had to call off both events after its application was rejected by the police and its court appeal for the rejection was turned down.
Originally, CHRF’s parade was to start from Charter Garden in Central to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing’s representative office in the city.
Despite the police ban, thousands of protesters showed up for the Aug. 31 protest last year. According to Hong Kong media, thousands gathered at Southern Playground in Wan Chai for a religious rally under the theme of “praying for sinners.” Then they sang hymns and prayed before marching to the Central district of Hong Kong.
Apple Daily reported that Lai, Yeung, and Lee, as well as pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, marched from the Southern Playground to St. John’s Cathedral and then stayed at Chater Garden in Central.
Lam took to Facebook Friday morning to stay that he had not been arrested.
Washington-based nonprofit Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) issued a press release criticizing both Lam’s Hong Kong government and the CCP.
“This morning’s arrests are blatant acts of political suppression by the Hong Kong government and the CCP. It is the Hong Kong government’s naked attempt to silence opposition voices and it will not work,” HKDC stated.
It added: “The rights to assembly and protest are enshrined in Hong Kong’s constitution.”
Hong Kong police officially announced at noon that the three had been charged for “illegal assembly” in Wan Chai and Central on Aug. 31 last year. They are scheduled to appear in the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on May 5.