Hong Kong is to freeze the assets of media tycoon and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai (黎智英) under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law, the latest move to crack down one of the territory’s prominent opposition figures.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee (李家超) issued notices to freeze all shares of Next Digital Ltd (壹傳媒) held by Lai, as well as local bank accounts of three companies owned by him, the Hong Kong government said in statement on Friday.
Lai, 73, resigned as chairman of the media group in December last year ahead of a bail hearing.
Since Beijing imposed the law last year, Hong Kong has disqualified lawmakers, delayed a Hong Kong Legislative Council election, and charged or jailed dozens of democracy advocates.
Lai was last month sentenced to 14 months in prison for attending unauthorized protests and charged with additional national security offenses.
It marks the first time that Hong Kong has used the National Security Law to freeze the shares of a listed company’s large shareholder, a step that is likely to spook investor sentiment in the territory.
More than 40 percent of members surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that they might leave the territory, highlighting the business community’s concerns over the security law and the government’s handling of COVID-19.
“Not content to just jail its critics, Beijing is determined to crush Jimmy Lai, whose only crime is to peacefully promote democracy in Hong Kong,” said Maya Wang (王松蓮), a China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Lai is one of the most prominent among Hong Kong democracy campaigners facing multiple charges for challenging Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong following violent protests in 2019. While the Hong Kong government says that it is pursuing cases with no political motivations, lawyers and advocates say that the flood of legal proceedings is designed to deter others from organizing demonstrations and criticizing Beijing.
Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan (陳茂波) last month said that the government had a responsibility to tackle “any financing activities that could violate the National Security Law, ensuring our financial system will not be used to carry out activities that could threaten the national security.”
The freeze is unrelated to Next Digital’s bank accounts, and would not affect the operation of the group and its media outlet, Apple Daily reported, citing the firm’s chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung (張嘉聲).
Lai as of September last year held about 71.3 percent of Next Digital shares, the company’s interim report showed.
Separately, Apple Daily said it would stop its print edition in Taiwan from Tuesday next week, citing a reduction in advertising revenue as “pro-China forces” have refused to advertise in the publication.
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