Hong Kong pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai charged under security law

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Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been charged under the territory’s controversial new national security law.

Mr Lai, 73, is accused of conspiring with foreign forces to endanger national security, and could face a lengthy jail term.

He is the most high-profile person charged under the new law.

Mr Lai founded the Apple Daily newspaper and is a fierce critic of the Beijing authorities.

Beijing has said the new security law will return stability to the territory after a year of unrest, but critics say it has silenced dissent.

Mr Lai was originally arrested under the law in August after a police raid on Apple Daily’s head office, but was released on bail.

However, he has been in custody since 2 December, after being denied bail on a separate charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses the newspaper.

He will appear in court on Saturday.

Meanwhile US-based news network Bloomberg reported that its Beijing-based staff member Haze Fan was being held by the Chinese authorities on suspicion of endangering national security.

Ms Fan, a Chinese citizen, had been missing since Monday when she was seen being escorted from her apartment by plain-clothes security officials. Her detention was confirmed on Thursday.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said they were “very concerned for her”.

In a separate case in Hong Kong earlier, teenage activist Tony Chung was convicted of desecrating the Chinese flag and unlawful assembly. He could now be facing up to five years in prison.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai (C), 73, owner of the Apple Daily newspaper, arrives at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre
image captionMr Lai was seen in handcuffs after his arrest on 2 December

Chung, the leader of a now disbanded pro-democracy group, is also the first public political figure to be prosecuted under the national security law. He faces a charge of secession, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

China has accelerated its crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition since the law was imposed in June, with legislators disqualified and dozens of activists charged or investigated.

Three prominent activists including Joshua Wong were jailed earlier this month for their part in pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Who is Jimmy Lai?

One of the city’s most prominent supporters of the pro-democracy movement, Mr Lai is estimated to be worth more than $1bn (£766m). Having made his initial fortune in the clothing industry, he later ventured into media and founded Next Digital.

Next Digital publishes Apple Daily, a well-read tabloid which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.

In a local media landscape increasingly fearful of Beijing, Mr Lai is a persistent thorn for China – both through his publications and writing.

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