Assets belonging to pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai were frozen by the Hong Kong authorities on Friday.

The Secretary for Security cited the ongoing national security law investigation into the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper in a press release on Friday.

Jimmy Lai. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lai is currently behind bars awaiting trial on three charges relating to alleged collusion with a foreign country. He is also currently serving a jail term over a peaceful, unauthorised protest in 2019.

Lai’s shares in Next Digital Limited and bank accounts belonging to three other companies he owns were frozen. As of December 2020, stock exchange filings show that Lai holds 71.26 per cent of voting shares in the firm which owns the pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid. The shares would be worth over HK$300 million as of Friday.

The Security Bureau press release said that “a person must not, directly or indirectly, deal with” the frozen properties.

Daily operations

Next Digital Trade Union spokesperson Alex Lam cited company management in saying that the action by the authorities should not affect the daily operations of Next Digital and Apple Daily. The firms targeted were Lai’s personal companies, Lam told HKFP.

Apple Daily’s office in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP

A statement from the union later said that staff will continue at their posts to report the news: “The union will closely monitor the development of the situation and keep in touch with management.”

Next Digital shares had already closed down 2.11 per cent on Friday before the news broke.

Earlier on Friday, Apple Daily’s Taiwan edition said it will scrap the print edition of its newspaper and focus instead on its online news site.

Lai, 73, is next due in court on Monday over a protest on October 1, 2019.

More to follow. Additional reporting: Selina Cheng.

Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.