Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily vows to ‘fight on’ after owner arrested

Readers queue from 2am to buy pro-democracy tabloid after owner Jimmy Lai’s arrest

 

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid responded with defiance on Tuesday to the arrest of owner Jimmy Lai under a new national security law imposed by Beijing, promising to fight on in a front-page headline over an image of Mr Lai in handcuffs.

Readers queued from the early hours to get copies of the pro-democracy tabloid a day after police raided its offices and took Mr Lai into detention, the highest-profile arrest under the national security law.

“Apple Daily must fight on”, the front-page headline read, amid fears the new law erodes media freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.

“The prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.”

More than 500,000 copies were printed, compared with the usual 100,000, the paper said on its website.

China-born Mr Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, is one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Communist Party rule in Beijing.

His arrest comes amid a crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that has drawn international criticism and raised fears for the freedoms promised by Beijing when the former British colony returned to China in 1997.

People queue up to buy fresh copies of the Apple Daily newspaper at a stall in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong early on Tuesday. Photograph: Yan Zhao/ AFP/Getty Images
People queue up to buy fresh copies of the Apple Daily newspaper at a stall in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong early on Tuesday. Photograph: Yan Zhao/ AFP/Getty Images

The sweeping security law imposed on June 30th punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The city’s Beijing-backed government and Chinese authorities say the law is necessary to restore order after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year, sparked by fears China was slowly eroding the city’s freedoms.

Strained relations

Hong Kong has since become another source of contention between the United States and China, whose relations were already at their most strained in years over issues including trade, the novel coronavirus, China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority and its claims in the South China Sea.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday called Mr Lai a “patriot”, saying Beijing had “eviscerated” Hong Kong’s freedoms. Britain said Mr Lai’s arrest was further evidence the security law was a “pretext to silence opposition”, to which China’s embassy replied by urging London to stop “using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit” the law.

Police detained Mr Lai for suspected collusion with foreign forces after about 200 officers searched the newspaper’s offices, collecting 25 boxes of evidence.

Handcuffed and apparently wearing the same clothes after spending the night in jail, he was driven by police on Tuesday to his yacht which police searched, according to media footage.

Beijing has labelled Mr Lai a “traitor” in the past and issued a statement supporting his arrest. The Beijing-backed China Daily newspaper said in an editorial that Mr Lai’s arrest showed “the cost of dancing with the enemy”. The paper added that “justice delayed didn’t mean the absence of justice”.

Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai (R) is taken by the police to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club Shelter Cove Clubhouse for evidence collection. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Hong Kong media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai (R) is taken by the police to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club Shelter Cove Clubhouse for evidence collection. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Police arrested 10 people in all on Monday, including other Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, one of the former leaders of young activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto pro-democracy group, which disbanded before the new law came into force.

Queues

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has managed to sustain broad support across the community.

Shares in Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, surged for a second day, gaining more than 2,078 per cent from Friday’s close, after online pro-democracy forums called on investors to show support. Its market value rose as high as HK$5.17 billion (€567 million) from some HK$200 million.

In the working-class neighbourhood of Mong Kok, dozens of people queued from as early as 2am to buy Mr Lai’s paper.

“What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally,” said 45-year-old Kim Yau as she bought a copy. “All Hong Kong people with a conscience have to support Hong Kong today, support Apple Daily.”

In another show of support, long queues formed at lunch time at the Cafe Seasons restaurant owned by Mr Lai’s son, Ian, who was also arrested on Monday.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on several top officials over what it said was their role in curtailing political freedoms in Hong Kong. China responded with sanctions on top US legislators and others. – Reuters