Nearly 40 hours after he and other critics of China were arrested as part of a widening police crackdown on political dissent, Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai walked free on bail on Wednesday, August 12th.
Lai was surrounded by a crowd of journalists and cheering supporters when he left the police station, some of whom showed their support by waving copies of his Apple Daily newspaper.
Ever since China imposed a sweeping national security law in June, a clampdown has picked up the pace in Hong Kong as opposition politicians are disqualified and activists arrested for social media posts.
In the West, outrage was sparked by the moves along with fear for millions who protested on the streets last year over communist China’s tightening grip on the city which became semi-autonomous after being handed back by the British government in 1997.
On Monday, Lai’ detention was among 10 people detained under the new security law, which was seen as one of the most dramatic days of the crackdown.
Nearly 200 police officers combed the newsroom of Lai’s Apple Daily offices, a newspaper which is unapologetically critical of Beijing’s actions.
Lai was seen flashing a thumbs up sign without making a statement to the crowd upon his release, as he was immediately bundled into a car that made its way through the crowd.
Apple Daily increased its print run from the normal circulation of 70,000 copies to a staggering 550,000 copies, as city folk rushed out to buy Tuesday’s edition in a display of solidarity for Lai.
A newsstand in the commercial district of Mong Kok sold 50 copies to a restaurant owner who had the intention of giving them away free of charge.
The man, who gave his surname as Ng, told AFP,“Since the government doesn’t allow Apple Daily to survive, then we as Hong Kongers have to save it ourselves,” while he lined up with dozens of people around the city from the early hours.
A picture of Lai being led away in handcuffs with the headline “Apple will fight on” was shown on the newspaper’s front page.
A buying spree in shares of Lai’s media group was brought upon by his arrest, and its stock value had risen by more than 1,100 per cent between Monday morning and closing time on Tuesday.
Secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces are deemed as criminal acts under Hong Kong’s new national security law.
The new security law was introduced on June 30th with the most serious crimes carrying life imprisonment, and it is not supposed to be retroactive.
Certain political speech, e.g., advocating sanctions and seeking greater autonomy or independence for Hong Kong can be criminalised overnight as based on the broadly worded provisions of the new law.
Mainland China uses similar laws to do away with opposition. Charges which included colluding with foreign forces and fraud were brought against 71-year-old Lai.
The clampdown operation received praise from Beijing, and Lai was quickly declared an “anti-China rabble-rouser” because of their belief that he conspired with foreigners to “stir up chaos”.
Two of Lai’s sons were arrested among the others, together with Agnes Chow, a young pro-democracy activist and Wilson Li, a freelancer for Britain’s ITV News and a former activist.
Chow was subsequently released on late Tuesday. Upon her release, Chow told reporters “It’s very obvious that the regime and the government are using the national security law to suppress political dissidents.”
The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement that read, “We call on the FCC Hong Kong (Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club) to respect the facts, distinguish right from wrong, and stop smearing under the pretext of press freedom the implementation of the National Security Law.”
12th August 19:30
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