Once seen as the bastion of free press and speech in Asia, Hong Kong now seems to be changing day by day.
Police arrested the city’s most prominent media mycoon and Beijing critic, Jimmy Lai, during the new national security law on Monday morning.
Hundreds of police also stormed the newsroom of his pro-democracy media outlet, the Apple Daily, which rummaged through documents on reporters’ desks as Lai was led through the office with handcuffs.
Lai’s arrest, for suspected collusion with foreign forces, is the high-profile use of the sweeping new legislation, which was introduced by Beijing on June 30 after last year’s protests.
It is not clear what specific action led to the 72-year-old̵
The law punishes everything that Beijing considers subversion, isolation, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with life sentences in prison.
The Apple Daily reported that Lai’s son was arrested along with executives at the newspaper.
Hong Kong police confirmed that at least nine people, aged 23 to 72, were arrested on suspicion of violating the new law.
The raid was streamed live on Apple Day’s official Facebook page.
A journalist working for Apple Daily spoke to ABC News on anonymity terms.
He was expected to start work later in the day but received a message from his supervisor in the morning not to enter the office.
“I was prepared for this day to come, but I did not expect it to come so quickly and in the way it did. The police seriously affected the journalists’ integrity and confidentiality in their news material, “said the local Hong Kong resident.
He describes that he is “sad, angry and scared” about the trial.
Pro-democracy and press advocacy groups were quick to condemn Monday’s events, with the Hong Kong Journalists Association warning journalists in the city to prepare for further crackdowns on reporters.
Hong Kong’s foreign correspondent club said it was signaling “a dark new phase in the erosion of the city’s global reputation.”
Amnesty International called it “a disturbing demonstration of the Hong Kong authorities’ intention to use the new national security law to threaten press freedom.”
Security legislation has been widely condemned by Western governments accusing Beijing of violating its promise to allow the territory semi-autonomy within the framework of “One Country, Two Systems”.
Monday’s newsroom attack comes when reports emerge of a new unit within Hong Kong’s immigration department that is now directing foreign journalists to work visas.
Later in the day, it was revealed that the local freelance journalist, Wilson Li, was among those arrested.
Li, whose clients include Britain’s ITN, was previously a member of the student activist group Scholarism.
Washington and Beijing have been involved in a tit-for-tat spit on journalists as part of a larger cold war between the world’s two largest economies.
On Monday, Beijing also rolled out expected sanctions against 11 US officials, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Last week, the United States announced sanctions against CEO Carrie Lam and ten other officials in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese state-run Global Times, said the arrest of Lai proved that the Hong Kong authorities would not be intimidated by US sanctions.
Hu tweeted that Washington’s sanctions “drive HK officials on to Beijing … In the future, the sanctions will also drive the hearts and minds of the entire HK community to mainland China and promote China’s unity.”
The timing of today’s raid and the new sanctions round also raise eyebrows.
On Sunday, US Secretary of Health Alex Azar began his visit to Taiwan, which is likely to offend Beijing, which considers the autonomous island as a renegade province.
Veteran Democrat Albert Ho told ABC News he believes “the unparalleled scale” of Monday’s police attack is “retaliation, to show the US government anger over the imposition of sanctions.”
She was accused along with Lai and more than 20 others last Friday of taking part in an event to mark Tiananmen Square in 1989 on June 4.
Lai and Ho are part of the Chinese state media have called the “gang of four” and accused them of causing concern along with Democratic Party founder Martin Lee and former general secretary Anson Chan.
She said he had long thought about the possibility that “this long arm can reach out to me.”
Ho, who runs a law firm in the city, said: “I do not allow myself to be scared and intimidated. I will insist that I have not done anything wrong to my country. I have only advocated that my country should democratize and that a party dictatorship should be transformed into a democratic system. ”