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Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai arrested under new security law

On 10 August, Hong Kong police arrested seven people, including Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon, on charges of violating the territory’s new national security law. They were detained over suspected collusion with foreign forces as around 200 police searched the offices of Mr Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper. Others arrested include four more members of the newspaper’s staff and Lai’s two sons.

Target: Press freedom

Mr Lai has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in Hong Kong and an ardent critic of Beijing and his arrest makes him the most high-profile target of the sweeping legislation imposed by Beijing. It also highlighted concerns that the new security law would be used to silence critical voices and curb the city’s freewheeling press as part of a broader move against democracy advocates. 

There have been two previous waves of arrests since the law was passed by Beijing on 30 June. The first one saw several protesters arrested the next day, as they staged a demonstration. In the second, on 30 July, four students and former pro-independence activists were arrested under the new law.

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, said:

“Press freedom is being extinguished in Hong Kong. For 23 years since the Hand Over media professionals in Hong Kong have sought to represent the people of Hong kong and raise the issues that impact their lives. None more so than Jimmy Lai who must be released immediately and all charges dropped.  China’s flagrant disregard for international treaties must not go unchecked. Press freedom in Hong Kong is dying and with it goes any semblance of One country Two systems.

Responses to the arrests

The arrest “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, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia programme coordinator.

Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist who left Hong Kong after the law was introduced, tweeted: 

On 10 August, Chinese state media Global Times described Mr Lai as “riot supporter” and his publications as having been 

“instigating hatred, spreading rumours and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years”.

Who is Mr Lai?

The 71-year-old is estimated to be worth more than $1bn (£766m) and made his initial fortune in the clothing industry, before later venturing into media and founded the newspaper Apple Daily, which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.

In 2019 the daily was the most-read paid newspaper in the territory, both in print and online, according to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Apple Daily executive Chan Pui-man said the newspaper will be published on Tuesday.

“Even if Apple Daily publish a pile of blank paper tomorrow, we would go and buy a copy,” 

prominent young activist Joshua Wong said on Twitter.

On Monday afternoon the stock price of Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company owned by Lai, had risen more than 300% after some analysts reportedly said they would buy in support of Lai and in protest against his arrest.

On 30 June, when the security law was passed, Mr Lai told the BBC that this 

“spells the death knell for Hong Kong”.

He warned that Hong Kong would become as corrupt as mainland China because “without the rule of law, people who do business here will have no protection”.

Mr Lai also previously said he believed the new law would be used against him.

“I have always thought I might one day be sent to jail for my publications or for my calls for democracy in Hong Kong,” he wrote in an Op-Ed article for The New York Times. “But for a few tweets, and because they are said to threaten the national security of mighty China? That’s a new one, even for me.”

What does the new law mean for Hong Kong?

Watch the International Observatory of Human Rights’ interview with Dr Anders Corr, political risk analyst and principal at Corr Analytics, who explains what the new law means for Hong Kong’s democracy and how the international community can intervene and prevent further human rights violations.

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