Under Hong Kong's notorious national security legislation, the properties of media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai will be frozen, marking the latest crackdown on one of the city's most influential opposition figures.
According to a government statement released late yesterday, Secretary of State John Lee issued notices to freeze all of Mr. Lai's shares in Next Digital as well as the local bank accounts of three companies he owns. Mr. Lai, 73, stepped down as chairman of the media conglomerate in December, just days before his bail hearing.
The Hong Kong government has suspended senators, postponed a parliamentary election, and fined or imprisoned hundreds of pro-democracy politicians after Beijing enacted the law last year. Mr. Lai was recently sentenced to 14 months in jail for participating in unlicensed demonstrations and is facing additional national security charges.
It is the first time that authorities have used the security law to freeze the stock of a major shareholder of a publicly-traded firm, a move that is likely to ruffle investor nerves in Asia's financial capital. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong surveyed more than 40% of its members, who said they could leave the area, highlighting the business community's concerns about the security law and the government's handling of Covid-19.
"Not satisfied with imprisoning its opponents, Beijing is hell-bent on crushing Jimmy Lai, whose only offense is peacefully promoting democracy in Hong Kong," Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.
Mr. Lai is one of the most well-known Hong Kong democracy activists, facing several charges for defying Beijing's tightening hold on Hong Kong after sometimes violent protests in 2019. While the Hong Kong government claims that it is prosecuting cases with no political motives, lawyers and activists claim that the influx of legal proceedings is intended to prevent others from organizing protests and criticizing Beijing.
In April, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the government has a duty to address "any financing activities that may breach the National Security Law, ensuring that our financial system is not used to carry out activities that may endanger national security."
According to Apple Daily, the freeze has nothing to do with Next Digital's bank accounts and would have no effect on the company's operations or its media outlet.