Hong Kong (AFP)

Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy media group on Monday announced the halt to trading in its shares, two days after authorities froze the assets of its jailed owner Jimmy Lai.

Next Digital Limited, which publishes the Apple Daily, explains that it has decided to suspend the listing of its title because it is "awaiting the publication of an announcement" concerning the freezing of the assets of Jimmy Lai.

Hong Kong officials said on Friday they had frozen the assets of the pro-democracy press boss, including his media stakes, for violating the National Security Law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year.

This is the first time that the authorities have applied this law to freeze the shares of the main shareholder of a listed company, taking the risk of scaring investors.

Billionaire Jimmy Lai, 73, is Beijing's pet peeve, with his pro-democracy newspapers.

Its two main titles, Apple Daily and the online magazine Next, stand out from their competitors who either support Beijing or take a much more cautious line.

Apple Daily, the city's most popular tabloid, notably strongly supported Hong Kong's pro-democracy cause, including the 2019 protests.

Chinese authorities have made no secret of their desire to see Apple Daily shut down and Jimmy Lai silenced.

Hong Kong Police Chief Chris Tang also accused Apple Daily of publishing "false information."

Apple Daily clarified over the weekend that it would likely only survive nine or 10 months without Jimmy Lai's money.

In pre-trial detention since December, Mr. Lai was convicted and sentenced last month to prison for taking part in the 2019 protests. He is due to appear in a Hong Kong court on Monday in another case. linked to these manifestations.

He is also accused of "collusion with foreign forces" for allegedly advocating foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and the Chinese leadership.

More than 100 people, including some of Hong Kong's foremost democracy activists, are in jail.

© 2021 AFP