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US Department of State expresses concerns over Jimmy Lai's arrest

Arrest seen as revenge from Hong Kong authorities towards leaders of anti-extradition bill protests

Founder of Next Digital Jimmy Lai (left), State of Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus (right)

Founder of Next Digital Jimmy Lai (left), State of Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus (right) (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On Feb. 28, the U.S. Department of State released a statement of its concern over the arrest of Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon and prominent pro-democracy activist, as well as two other activists from his political camp.

In the statement, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus conveyed the agency's concern to the Hong Kong authorities that law enforcement is being used selectively for political purposes and shared its wishes that the government handle the case fairly, transparently, and with respect for the freedom of assembly guaranteed to citizens under Hong Kong law.

The arrest happened on Friday, Feb. 28, when the police arrived at Lai's house and took him to the Kowloon City police station for interrogation. The Labor Party Vice-Chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人), and the former Chairman of the Democratic Party, Yeung Sum (楊森), were also arrested on the same day.

All of them were charged with illegal assembly at a nominally religious event on Aug. 31, 2019, in which people gathered to protest the anti-extradition bill. Lai, Lee, and Yeung marched at the front of the parade, chanting and shouting slogans, reported RFA.

Lai made bail Friday at noon and declined to answer a fusillade of questions from assembled press. Lee, released later that afternoon, denounced the arrest as a political action. "The government began its revenge and we have prepared for this. The authorities are using everything they can to intimidate Hong Kongers," Lee said.

Yeung was also released that same day. He insisted he did not regret joining the assembly last year.

This is not the first time Lai was arrested; in 2014, he was taken to a police station along with several legislative councilors during the Umbrella Movement. He was arrested again in 2015 under the pretense of "organizing and joining an illegal assembly," though he has never faced charges until now.

The Hong Kong columnist Lee Yee (李怡) told RFA that Lai has always been seen as a thorn in the side of Beijing and as a driving force behind the anti-extradition bill protests. "With his influence in the media and his connections to US politicians, I was not surprised to see him targeted by the Chinese Communist Party again," Lee said.