Next Digital Limited saw its stock price rocket by over 300 per cent on Monday after its owner, pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, was arrested under the national security law.
Officers arrested Lai at his residence on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces – one of the offences under the Beijing-imposed legislation, which also criminalises secession, subversion and terrorist activities. Hours later, he was seen in handcuffs at the headquarters of Apple Daily as around 200 police officers raided the building in Tseung Kwan O.
The police action triggered dissent from democracy supporters, who called on investors to back the company that owns Apple Daily, which describes itself as “the most outspoken pro-democracy media” outlet in Hong Kong.
A Facebook page known as Henry Porter Babel – which has over 39,000 followers – wrote at 11 am that he had bought 300,000 shares in Next Digital (282) at a price of HK$0.077: “The last mainstream media resisting the Chinese Communist Party could be over at any time,” he wrote.
Another buyer was Apple Daily columnist Stanley Wong, who has over 129,000 followers on Facebook. He said he bought 1.22 million shares at HK$0.078 each. Wong described the purchase as “irrational,” but said he was willing take the risk to support the tabloid’s owner.
The price of Next Digital saw an early dip of nearly 17 per cent but jumped to HK$0.40 at around 2 pm, soaring 344 per cent. It represented a record high price since last June. The stock eventually closed at HK$0.255, with a 183 per cent surge.
Other local media companies also saw a rise in their stock prices. For instance, Most Kwai Chung Limited, which owns satirical magazine 100Most saw a 47.06 per cent increase, while iCable Communications Limited hit a 19.35 per cent growth in their market price.
Security law round-up
Police said on Twitter that, as of 4 pm, a total of nine people – aged 23 to 72 – were taken into custody on suspicion of violating the national security law. The force said the offences included collusion with a foreign country or “external elements” to endanger national security.
According to local media, police also rounded up Lai’s two sons and other senior executives of Next Digital. His close aide Mark Simon, on the other hand, became “wanted” by police, according to pro-Beijing newspaper Oriental Daily.
Lai was seen leaving the Apple Daily office building with police at around 1.30 pm. He said in an Apple Daily live stream video that he believed he would be taken to the Mong Kok police station.
About an hour later, some officers took boxes of items from the office. Steve Li, of superintendent of the new police national security department, told reporters that the evidence would be sent to police station for preliminary processing.
Li, who earlier pledged police would not search journalistic materials, said officers had to examine the editorial department of the second floor because it was the location of the office of the arrested. He did not take questions from reporters.
Watchdogs sound alarm
Press freedom watchdog such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest and raid.
In a statement on Monday evening, the European Union’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy said that respect for human rights were fundamental to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution: “In addition, media freedom and pluralism, are pillars of democracy as they are essential components of open and free society. It is essential that the existing rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are fully protected, including freedom of speech, of the press and of publication, as well as freedom of association and of assembly,” the spokesperson said.