Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested on Monday on suspicion of breaching a national security law imposed by Beijing on the territory, his own tabloid reported.
The arrest of Lai, the owner of pan-democratic tabloid Apple Daily and an outspoken prominent pro-democracy figure, was also reported by the South China Morning Post and broadcaster RTHK.
His sons Timothy Lai and Ian Lai and several senior executives at the company which publishes the newspaper were also arrested amid the latest crackdown under the legislation, according to Apple Daily.
Hong Kong police confirmed on Twitter that seven people aged 39 to 72 were arrested on suspicion of breaches of the national security law, but did not confirm their names.
The stated offences include collusion with a foreign country, police said. Apple Daily posted footage on social media of dozens of police officers entering the Next Media Building, the newspaper’s headquarters, with images showing police searching floors of news desks.
Steve Li, the chief superintendent of the national security law, was seen in live footage filmed by Apple Daily staff at the scene.
Apple Daily’s editor Chan Pui Man posted on Apple Daily’s Facebook page that the group would “keep publishing and editing, news will keep rolling out and the newspaper still issued tomorrow.”
Shares of Lai’s company, Next Digital, skyrocketed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange during Monday’s afternoon trading session, as they rose by as much as 345 per cent.
The national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing came into force on June 30, the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the handover of the ex-British colony back to China.
It targets secession, acts of terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Sentences for violation of the law range from three to 10 years or for the most serious offences, life imprisonment.
The law has garnered widespread international criticism which has resulted in countries including Britain, the United States and Germany announcing that they would suspend their extradition treaties with the territory.
Taiwan on Monday condemned the arrest of media tycoon Lai and other pro-democracy leaders.
“The move seriously damages Hong Kong’s press freedom, human rights, rule of the law and democracy,” presidential spokesperson Xavier Chang said in a statement.
Chang said that democratic Taiwan would team up with other democracies to continue to support people in Hong Kong and offer substantial assistance.
The US has placed sanctions on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other officials for “implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes.”
The foreign ministers of the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on Sunday called Lam’s postponement of the 2020 Legislative Council Elections a “disproportionate postponement” of the polls, though Lam cited a surge in coronavirus cases in the city as the reason for the decision.
Lam announced the postponement of the elections for one year on July 31, a day after 12 pro-democracy election candidates, including high-profile activist Joshua Wong were disqualified from the race.