The Hong Kong stock exchange stopped trading in Next Digital shares on Monday at the request of the media company, after officials froze assets owned by its founder Jimmy Lai, who has been a high-profile voice in the pro-movement. democracy of the territory.
At the end of the day, the media mogul and nine other pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal assembly in 2019. Lai is already serving a 14-month sentence for his role in two other unauthorized assemblies during a period in that Hong Kong residents have been involved in mass anti-government protests.
Next Digital said in a filing that it requested a halt to negotiations after authorities announced the freezing of Lai’s assets on Friday under a national security law that critics say aimed to extinguish dissent in semi-autonomous territory. Chinese. Next Digital publishes the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, and the company was founded by Lai, who owns 71% of the shares and is its controlling shareholder.
The freezing of Lai’s assets raises questions about Next Digital’s survival as a company. Advertisers became cautious about the firm and pro-democratic stance of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong, negatively affecting its revenue as officials cracked down on dissenting voices in the city at the request of Beijing leaders.
Last week, the Taiwan Apple Daily announced that it would stop publishing a print edition. The newspaper said it was losing money and that Next Digital could no longer support it because “pro-China forces” blocked access to advertising for its flagship Apple Daily and other publications in Hong Kong.
Lai and the other nine who pleaded guilty in an October 2019 demonstration, can make mitigation requests on May 24 and the sentences will be rendered on May 28. They face up to five years in prison.
The mass protests started over a proposed extradition bill that many saw as a violation of the freedoms that Hong Kong was promised when it was handed over from British control to the Chinese in 1997 and then evolved to include broader demands for democracy. After months of protests and, at times, violent clashes between security forces and protesters, Beijing began to increase its control over the territory.
Last year, it imposed a new national security law on the city, which is widely seen as a way to crack down on dissent that was once legal. The law widely criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, and the police have arrested more than 100 people in accordance with the law.
Lai is being investigated by the national security department for allegedly colluding with foreign powers and for putting national security at risk.
Your assets have been frozen under national security law, which states that if there are reasonable grounds for believing that the property is related to a national security crime, then “the relevant persons and organizations must not, directly or indirectly, , dealing with certain assets that are reasonably suspected to be related to crimes that endanger national security, “the government said in a statement on Friday.
In recent months, Hong Kong police have arrested most of the city’s pro-democracy activists and put prominent activists like Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow behind bars. Most of the imprisoned pro-democracy activists are still in police custody.