Pro-democracy citizens and groups slammed the arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Monday, August 10, over alleged collusion with foreign powers – the first high-profile casualty of the Beijing-backed national security law in the former British colony.
Aside from Lai, 6 others were arrested, reportedly including his two sons. Over a hundred police also trooped to Apple Daily and raided the local newspaper’s office. (READ: ‘Night fell’: Hong Kong’s first month under China security law)
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Lai “should be released at once and any charges dropped.”
“The arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong’s National Security Law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in a statement.
On Twitter, democracy activist Joshua Wong strongly condemned Lai’s arrest and described the police raid as the “end of press freedom” and the “darkest day” for journalists in Hong Kong.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) said the arrests are “a direct assault on Hong Kong’s press freedom and signal a dark new phase in the erosion of the city’s global reputation.”
The group also quoted Lai’s May 29 New York Times opinion piece, where the mogul said: “Every sentence, every word will carry the risk of potential punishment on the mainland. When it comes to free speech, this law will remodel Hong Kong so that it becomes like the rest of China.”
“Unfortunately, today’s events make Mr. Lai’s warning even more prescient,” the FCC said.
Emily Lau, former Democratic Party member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said civil society now fears the possible extradition of Lai to mainland China. The act is allowed under the controversial law.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Lau said there is an intense worry over the case of Lai, who was arrested twice on illegal assembly charges for joining pro-democracy protests.
“He has been arrested several times, but this time there is worry because the law states that some people arrested in Hong Kong can be taken to mainland China. It is very, very horrendous because over there, there is no transparency, accountability,” Lau told Rappler.
“Suspects and defendants there have little rights. So many people said to me that they are very, very concerned, not just for Lai but for the others arrested, that they may be sent across the boundary. That would be very, very bad,” Lau said.
In an interview with Reuters in May, the tycoon vowed to stay in Hong Kong and continue to fight for democracy: “What I have, this place gave me, I will fight on till the last day. It will be (an) honor if I … sacrifice.”
Aside from journalists, Lau said members of the academe and other professionals are worried “because they are afraid that they may say the wrong things” that will upset the central government.
“I want to call on the civilized world, who support freedom and human rights to look at what’s happening in Hong Kong. It is deteriorating so fast. Don’t take whatever you have for granted. Cherish personal freedoms and safety and speak out for people all over the world,” Lau said.
Support for Lai overflowed on Monday, as shares of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily, continued to surge. Financial commentators and influencers have urged citizens to buy the stock to show support for the news organization critical of China. – Rappler.com