Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai and raided the publisher's headquarters Monday in the highest-profile use yet of a new national security law Beijing imposed on the city in June. "Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers at this time," Mark Simon, an executive of Lai's media group and his aide, wrote on Twitter.
Masked and wearing a blue shirt and a light gray blazer, Lai was led out of his mansion in Kowloon by police officers also wearing surgical masks and was taken away.
The 71-year-old owns popular tabloid Apple Daily and is an outspoken pro-democracy figure in Hong Kong who regularly criticizes China's authoritarian rule.
Over 100 police also raided the headquarters in Hong Kong of media group Next Digital, which Lai founded, entering the newsroom and searching desks. It wasn't clear what police were looking for. Simon said in a tweet that they were executing a search warrant. Police later said they took away 25 boxes of evidence for processing.
Lai was led in handcuffs through the office during the raid, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
At times, officers appeared to get into heated exchanges with Next Digital staff at the scene. Police cordoned off the headquarters while the raid was being conducted.
Hong Kong police said at least nine people between 39 and 72 years old had been arrested on suspicion of violating the new security law, with offences including collusion with a foreign country, but the statement didn't reveal the names of those arrested. The police didn't rule out more arrests.
Two of Lai's sons were among those detained, according to AFP, which cited a police source.
Washington Post Hong Kong Bureau Chief Shibani Mahtani tweeted that a senior Apple Daily journalist said, "Shutting down Apple Daily and threatening other media organizations is the goal — so that no one dares to speak the truth at the end. It is not excessive to say this is the end of Hong Kong press freedom."
A senior Apple Daily executive vowed that the newspaper will be published as usual Tuesday, the Reuters news agency said.
Lai's arrest, coming days after theon Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials, shows China's determination to move forward with enforcement of the new law despite outside pressure.
The officials at first, which may have limited practical effect, with one saying that being named by the U.S. showed that he was doing the right thing for Hong Kong and China. They've rejected any criticism of Hong Kong policy as foreign interference in China's domestic affairs.
But Beijing said Monday it was applying sanctions against U.S. officials including Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida in response to the ones imposed by Washington, according to Reuters.
Simon said police searched both Lai's and a son's home, and detained several other members of Next Digital.
It wasn't immediately clear how Lai or others at the newspaper may have colluded with foreign forces since the law went into effect.
Last year, Lai met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House to discuss Hong Kong's controversial legislation - since withdrawn - that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China to stand trial.
But Hong Kong officials have said the national security law, which took effect June 30, wouldn't be applied retroactively. The law is widely seen as a means to curb dissent after anti-government protests rocked the semi-autonomous city for months last year.
Next Digital operates the Apple Daily tabloid, which Lai founded in 1995, ahead of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China. Like Lai, Apple Daily has a strong pro-democracy stance and often urges its readers to take part in pro-democracy protests.
The security law ban secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts, as well as collusion with foreign forces in the city's internal affairs. The maximum punishment for serious offenders is life imprisonment.
Last month, Chinese broadcaster CCTV said pro-democracy activist Nathan Law and five others were wanted under the law, although all six had fled overseas. Law had relocated to Britain in July to continue international advocacy work for Hong Kong.