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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong pro-democracy figures arrested over banned rally

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and two others took part in illegal march in August

HONG KONG -- Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the owner of one of Hong Kong's biggest-selling newspapers, Apple Daily, was arrested on Friday morning for illegal assembly and intimidating a journalist.

Police officers from the crime unit arrived at Lai's residence around 7:30 a.m. and took him to Kowloon City Police Station, according to the Apple Daily. Two other veteran pro-democracy politicians, former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, former chairman of the Democratic Party, also were arrested on Friday.

The trio have been charged on suspicion of taking part in an unauthorized assembly held on Aug. 31, and for breaching the Public Order Ordinance, acting senior superintendent Wong Tong-kwong said in a media briefing. The case will be heard in court on May 5, he said.

In a separate case, Lai was also accused of intimidating a journalist by using foul language during a vigil in Hong Kong on June 4 in 2017, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Wong said.

The monthslong protests began in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The demonstrations later morphed into broader calls for democracy and freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. More than 7,000 people have been arrested over their roles in the protests.

Lai, 71 years old, has long been the face of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Apple Daily, the newspaper he founded in 1995, has been outspoken and critical toward both Beijing and the Hong Kong government. The Taiwan edition of Apple Daily also enjoys a wide readership on the self-governing island.

"It seems that street protests are calming down because of the disease," said Chung Kim-wah, a former social sciences professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, referring to the outbreak of the new coronavirus. More than 80 people in Hong Kong have been confirmed as having the illness, and there have been two deaths.

"The government and the police are now shifting their focus and try to target those iconic figures on the political movement in Hong Kong," Chung said.

Democracy Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who also attended the rally on Aug. 31, said the Friday morning sweep "is just the beginning," as he expects more arrests will follow in order to "suppress the oppositional voices."

"It shows that Beijing's hard-line tactics on Hong Kong haven't changed after the reshuffle of top officials," Lam said. Earlier this year, Beijing appointed new chiefs for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and Liaison Office -- the highest-ranking mainland Chinese officials in charge of Hong Kong.

The assembly on Aug. 31 originally was organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of Hong Kong's largest peaceful protests. It was called off two days ahead of the planned march when the police department rejected the CHRF's application over "concerns of public order and security."

Despite the ban, tens of thousands of people attended the rally, which escalated into violent clashes between police and protesters.

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