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Hong Kong Newspaper Owner Arrested on Charges of Unlawful Assembly and Intimidation

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Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested on suspicion of participating in an unlawful assembly last year and intimidating a reporter in 2017.

The arrest was confirmed by Mark Simon, the group director for Lai’s company, Next Digital Ltd., which publishes the Apple Daily newspaper. Two former pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, were also arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly Friday, he said.

“This is ridiculous,” Simon said by phone. Lai was being held in a police station in Kowloon and was waiting to see his lawyer, he said.

The Police Public Relations Branch didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The moves were earlier reported by local media including Now TV and Cable TV.

The arrests come amid a lull in protest activity following more than six months of nearly non-stop demonstrations in the former British colony and as the city battles the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus. The Hong Kong police have been going through footage and trying to track down around 300 protesters and suspects, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported Jan 29.

The arrests also follow Beijing’s appointment of new hard-line officials responsible for overseeing Hong Kong. Earlier this month, China tapped Xia Baolong, the vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as director of the Hong Kong & Macau Affairs Office.

Beijing also appointed Luo Huining — a cadre known for executing President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign — as head of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Simon, the Next Digital group director, said Lai’s arrest probably stemmed from the Liaison Office’s desire to show it was taking action.

Lai has long championed the city’s pro-democracy movement and has been labeled a traitor by the Chinese government.

Around 10 police officers arrived at Lai’s home in Ho Man Tin in Kowloon at around 7:30 a.m. Friday, according to local newspaper Oriental Daily News. He was arrested in relation to the criminal intimidation of the newspaper’s reporter in 2017 and for unlawful assembly on Aug. 31 last year, the Oriental Daily said, citing unidentified people.

The Oriental Daily had long sought to have Lai prosecuted over the 2017 incident, Simon said.

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