Conflicts & War

Hong Kongers back pro-democracy newspaper as arrest of founder sparks outrage

By Shirley Lau

Hong Kong, Aug 11 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong residents on Tuesday lined up to buy local newspaper Apple Daily, in trouble with the authorities after its founder Jimmy Lai – an outspoken critic of the government – was detained a day earlier in the most high-profile arrest under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

In rare scenes for a tech-savvy city where reading news online is often preferred to buying hard copies of newspapers, Tuesday’s Apple Daily flew off the shelves in different parts of Hong Kong.

Within 24 hours of the arrest of the 71-year-old media mogul, his two sons and four senior executives of the paper were also arrested and offices of the publication’s parent company Next Digital raided by over 200 police officers.

As early as 2 am, a queue had formed in front of a street newspaper stand in the Kowloon area, as people waited to get a copy of the tabloid-style publication whose front-page showed a handcuffed Lai under the headline “Apple will fight on.”

In the morning, a pro-democracy activist group in the New Territories bought 1,000 copies and distributed them for free at a metro station, while in the upmarket residential area of Sai Ying Pun, someone left a pile of copies on a staircase for locals to pick up.

“I went to several shops and newspaper stands but all copies were sold out. This is the only traditional media outlet in Hong Kong that speaks truths. From now on I will buy it every day to show my support for it and for freedom of the press in Hong Kong,” Jackson, a restaurant employee, told EFE.

At lunch time, pro-democracy office workers in the Central business district found another way to declare their political position despite social distancing rules making lawful street protests impossible: they flocked to a restaurant owned by Lai’s son, one of the people arrested on Monday.

On Tuesday morning, a handcuffed Lai, who is highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party, was escorted by the police for conducting a search of his yacht.

Lai had been detained overnight on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” in violation of the national security law that took effect on June 30. His sons and the Next Digital executives have also been arrested under similar charges.

Lai’s close aide Mark Simon, who is currently abroad, is also wanted by the police in the case.

Meanwhile, prominent young activist Agnes Chow, 23, who was also arrested over the national security law in a separate police operation on Monday evening, remained in police custody on Tuesday.

Monday was marked by a string of arrests as city authorities cracked the whip on dissenters with the help of the controversial security law.

Hong Kongers watched live video coverage of hundreds of police officers entering the headquarters of Next Digital – formally known as Next Media – and conducting a three-hour search of the premises including Apple Daily’s newsroom shortly after arresting Lai at his home.

A few hours after the high-profile arrests linked to Lai, two other men, including a freelance journalist for British broadcaster ITN, were also arrested under the national security law.

Then in the evening, Chow, a core leader of the now-defunct pro-democracy political group Demosisto, was taken away by police from her home, for allegedly breaching provisions of the same law.

Pun Pak-lam, head of the Next Media Trade Union, told EFE on Tuesday that journalists at the Apple Daily were concerned that they could be the next to be arrested under the legislation.

“Now that they have arrested the founder of our paper, we worry they’ll target us journalists. We’ve been discussing how we can protect our own safety, but the scope of the law is just too broad. We’re also worried that the authorities may do something against the paper so that it can no longer operate.”

The law, which Beijing enacted in Hong Kong without it being approved by the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s legislature, criminalizes acts that can be perceived as attempts for secession, subversion of state power and collusion with foreign forces.

People convicted of the crimes can face a maximum penalty of life-imprisonment.

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