Why Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai gives Beijing nightmares

The founder of influential Apple Daily is arrested under the city’s draconian national security law

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai is the man that Beijing simply can not buy.

Unlike the city’s tycoons that sold out their principles to become card-carrying members of China’s Communist Party, the influential owner of Apple Daily refused to give up his pro-democracy credentials.

Even a witch hunt against the billionaire has failed to muzzle him or the highly-successful Apple Daily newspaper.

Before he was arrested on Monday on alleged “collusion with foreign forces” under the new draconian national security law, Lai admitted he was prepared to go to prison for his beliefs.

“I’m prepared for [that]. If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven’t read. The only thing I can do is to be positive,” he told the AFP news agency. 

The 71-year-old has been an ardent critic of China’s claustrophobic ruling CCP and its attempts to destroy Hong Kong’s democracy movement. 

Lai family members

After his arrest, he was frog-marched back into the Apple Daily offices as police raided the building, according to posts from the newspaper on Facebook. Apple Daily also confirmed that other Lai family members had been arrested.

“[This] bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong’s National Security Law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom,” Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. 

“Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped,” he added.

His arrest comes amid rising tension in one of the world’s major financial and business centers.

Critics have argued that the oppressive security law has strangled the city’s basic rights and freedoms. They were guaranteed under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement after Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, ending 156 years of British rule.

But pro-democracy demonstrations last year and anti-Beijing unrest prompted President Xi Jinping’s administration to force through hardline legislation with minimal consultation.

Media crackdown

Since then, a media crackdown has come into force, while pro-democracy campaigners, such as Lai, have been rounded up.

“The public searches of the media offices have had a shocking effect on the industry … freedom of the press and expression are at stake,” the Hong Kong Democratic Party said in a Facebook post.

Read: Hong Kong pressured to hold elections and reinstate candidates 

Read: China squeezes the life out of Hong Kong in security law crackdown

Billionaire Lai, who holds British citizenship, made his initial fortune in the garment industry before moving into the media. In 1995, he launched Apple Daily, a zany tabloid-mix of celebrity gossip and cutting-edge political views for a Chinese-language audience.

“We do not fear suppression, insist on voicing [our opinions], and honor our roles. We stand with Hong Kong,” Next Magazine, which is part of Lai’s media empire, said on Facebook.