HK protests: Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai arrested over August 31 march and intimidation of reporter at 2017 vigil

29-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:52 AM Print This Post

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was arrested on Friday morning for illegal assembly during the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, as well as for intimidating a reporter at an event years ago.

A police source said the 71-year-old was held as part of an operation targeting those involved in a march on August 31 last year, amid the unrest sparked in June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Officers from the crime unit arrived at Lai’s home on Kadoorie Avenue, Ho Man Tin, at about 7.30am and took him to Kowloon City Police Station, according to Apple Daily, the newspaper he founded in 1995.

Lai was also accused of intimidating an Oriental Daily reporter using foul language in June 2017, during the June 4 vigil held that year in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. The newspaper said its journalist had repeatedly reported the incident to police, sending 17 letters.

At 12.45pm on Friday, Lai was granted court bail and seen leaving the police station.

Two pro-democracy politicians were also arrested in the morning on suspicion of illegal assembly on August 31.

Two sources confirmed that ex-lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, and Yeung Sum, 72, were at their homes when police swooped in.

The Labour Party confirmed that Lee, a party veteran and general secretary of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, was arrested at around 8am on Friday.

The party condemned police, accusing them of abusing the power to arrest.

At around 1pm, Lee was seen leaving Cheung Sha Wan Police Station while Yeung left from Western Police Station.

Yeung said he had no regrets but expressed concern that more arrests would come.

I thought the government should be focused on fighting the epidemic

Yeung Sum, ex-lawmaker

“Freedom of procession is a fundamental right, especially when we don’t have full democracy,” Yeung said. “I thought the government should be focused on fighting the epidemic, but it seems it will not let go of what happened last year.”

He stressed that the rally was peaceful, and participants only sang hymns and chanted slogans.

Fellow party member and lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said: “The three were not even organisers, this is clearly political persecution.”

Responding to the Post on the arrests, Mark Simon, an executive from Lai’s Next Digital Group, said: “With all that Hong Kong is facing, with all the trouble our city is in, how does arresting these three men at this time make any statement, other than [showing that] Beijing and the government want to stir the pot?”

Meanwhile, former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said his Democratic Party colleague Albert Ho Chun-yan had not been arrested, contrary to earlier reports. Ho was at the August 31 rally, but he did not walk alongside the three who were arrested.

Acting senior superintendent Wong Tung-kwong of the Hong Kong Island regional crime unit later said police arrested three Hong Kong men aged between 63 and 72 on suspicion of taking part in an unauthorised assembly in Wan Chai on August 31 last year, and for breaching the Public Order Ordinance.

He said one of the three men was also arrested over criminal intimidation in a separate case on Hong Kong Island on June 4, 2017.

But Wong did not give details of the three suspects, only saying they had been charged and would appear at Eastern Court on May 5.

The assembly on August 31 was originally organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, which holds the city’s biggest anti-government events. But the front cancelled it after losing its appeal against a police ban.

Protesters gathered at Chater Garden in Central regardless, before clashes broke out on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Police made arrests at Prince Edward railway station, where they were accused of using excessive force when they stormed a stationary train.

Those behind the rally said it was a religious gathering of Christians praying for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who they called a “sinner”.

They highlighted a provision of the Public Order Ordinance, which says assemblies exclusively held for religious purposes do not require police approval.

But a police source said: “What happened that day was a procession. The people were marching on the streets. It is not a public meeting nor gathering as cited in the above mentioned law.

“Moreover, we have received legal advice from the Department of Justice, which gave the green light for the arrests.”

The Hong Kong protests later morphed into a broader anti-government movement fuelled by allegations of police brutality and the push for more democracy.

Lai is a publishing tycoon known for his brash business style as well as his anti-Beijing activism, which is often reflected in the tabloid-style Apple Daily.

He was a vocal participant in the Occupy protests of 2014 and remained a strong supporter of the anti-government protests triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.


Category: Hong Kong

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