Media tycoon and outspoken Beijing critic Jimmy Lai has reportedly been arrested by Hong Kong authorities under the pretenses of a national security law that has been used to crack down on dissidents since its passage in June.
The announcement of Lai’s arrest came from pro-democracy activist Samuel Chu, who had a warrant for his arrest issued earlier this month.
“NOW: @JimmyLai, outspoken pro-democracy activist and owner of opposition newspapers @AppleDaily, has been arrested for ‘colluding with foreign powers’ under the #NationalSecurityLaw in Hong Kong,” Chu tweeted.
Lai's arrest was confirmed by a senior executive at Lai's media company.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., an inveterate critic of Beijing, pointed to the arrest as evidence of China’s zero tolerance approach to free speech.
“Longtime #HongKong publisher arrested for daring to speak out against #ChineseCommunistParty – actually, for daring just to report the news,” Hawley tweeted. “This is the ‘free speech’ #China wants to force on the world.”
Hong Kong has long enjoyed civil liberties not seen in mainland China because it is governed under a so-called "one country, two systems" principle in place since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
However, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong at the end of June, following months of anti-government protests that began last year.
The new law prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or what it sees as foreign intervention in Hong Kong's internal affairs. Police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
Critics see the law as Beijing's boldest move yet to erase the divide between Hong Kong's Western-style system and the mainland's authoritarian way of governing.
The Trump administration last week sanctioned Hong Kong's leader and China's top representative in the city for allegedly cracking down on freedom and undermining the local autonomy of the former British colony.
During an appearance on Fox Business Network’s ‘Mornings with Maria’ early last month, Lai was asked whether he was concerned he might be arrested under the new security law.
He responded: “I’m not worried because if I worry, I can’t do anything or say anything. Whatever comes, I will have to meet up to it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.