HK’s Apple Daily Newspaper Raided; Owner, Others Arrested

Jimmy Lai, pro-democracy owner of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of "colluding with foreign forces." Nine others, including Lai’s sons, were also arrested for alleged violations of the city’s recently imposed National Security Law. Soon after Lai’s arrest, over a hundred police raided Apple Daily’s offices. The moves come amid broad pressure on activists, pro-democracy politicians, academia, publishing, and media, and follow charges against Lai, Joshua Wong, and 23 others for "knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly." That charge concerns their involvement in the annual candlelit vigil on June 4, held this year in defiance of a police ban ostensibly imposed on public health grounds. The U.S. last week imposed sanctions on 11 Hong Kong officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam over their roles in "implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes." China responded on Monday with sanctions against 11 Americans including six congressmen and the heads of Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the National Endowment for Democracy. Bloomberg News noted that the Chinese retaliation did not target any members of the Trump administration.

Reuters’ Greg Torode and James Pomfret reported on Lai’s arrest and the raid on the newspaper’s offices:

It “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. “Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped.”

Ryan Law, Apple Daily’s chief editor, told Reuters the paper would not intimidated by the raid.

“Business as usual,” he said.

[…] Lai had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.

[…] Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung said the search was “horrible.”

“I think somewhere in third-world countries there has been such kind of press freedom suppression; I just didn’t expect it in Hong Kong.” [Source]

A separate report from Reuters compiled more reactions.

Others arrested under the NSL included Wilson Li, an activist and freelance reporter for Britain’s ITV News, and democracy activist Agnes Chow.

AFP’s Xinqi Su and others tracked the day’s events as they happened, including the Apple Daily raid; the exclusion of media deemed to have been "obstructive" in the past from a later police briefing; and a wave of people buying print copies and company shares in support of the newspaper.

At The Guardian, Helen Davidson described the course of Lai’s political career:

He fled mainland China for Hong Kong at the age of 12, where he worked in sweatshops and learned English. He reportedly became politicised and a critic of Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

In Hong Kong, the self-made entrepreneur founded the Giordano clothing brand before turning to journalism, establishing Next media and founding Apple Daily in 1995. The newspaper has grown into one of Hong Kong’s biggest daily tabloids and, like Lai, is unashamedly pro-democracy.

Lai has been an outspoken funder of the democracy movement and opponent of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, and as such as has become an high-profile figure in the territory. In 2013, a car rammed the gates of his home and weapons were left at the scene, while masked men threatened workers and burned thousands of copies of Apple Daily.

In 2014, anti-corruption officers raided the homes of Lai and his top aide, Mark Simon, after leaked documents revealed Lai had donated millions of dollars to pro-democracy groups and individuals ahead of the Occupy Central protests. A rival paper published a fake obituary of him, which claimed he died of Aids and cancer.

Chinese state media calls him a “riot supporter”, a “modern-day traitor” and “black hand”. He was labelled one of a new Gang of Four conspiring against Beijing alongside Anson Chan, Martin Lee, and Albert Ho. [Source]

Mounting pressure over the course of this year has failed to discourage Lai, who wrote in a New York Times op-ed in March that "I have always thought I might one day be sent to jail for my publications or for my calls for democracy in Hong Kong," and has continued to speak out through domestic and international channels since the law’s passage.

Bloomberg’s Kari Soo Lindberg described the arrests and raid as a warning to Hong Kong’s already beleaguered free press:

Journalists have been concerned about China’s tightening grip on free speech in Hong Kong at least since 2018, when local authorities declined to renew the work visa of the Asia new editor for the Financial Times. It was thought to be the first expulsion of a foreign journalist since the 1997 handover and suggested a bolder Chinese influence on the city.

Those concerns only grew this year. After the U.S. placed restrictions on Chinese media, the government in Beijing expelled Americans working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and said they weren’t welcome in Hong Kong. In July, the New York Times announced it was moving its digital news operation from Hong Kong to Seoul.

[…] The effects have been chilling. Selina Cheng, an investigative reporter at local news outlet HK01, said senior management has begun to restrict the kinds of stories their reporters can work on. “When editors are worried about getting into trouble they naturally won’t push reporters to do more reporting on topics they don’t feel comfortable with,” she said.

Even Apple Daily had taken steps to protect its reporters and stopped printing bylines after the law passed.

“Other media outlets looking at what happened to Apple Daily today know that if they speak out against the government — like Apple Daily did — they will face the same consequences,” said Martin Lam, a reporter who’s covered Hong Kong politics for the paper for 13 years. “They will be more cautious of what they report in the near future.” [Source]

The Atlantic’s Timothy McLaughlin described the mounting pressure on journalism in Hong Kong in an August 1 piece focused on allegedly skewed coverage at the South China Morning Post.

[… E]ven before the recent enactment of a far-reaching national-security law in Hong Kong, the city’s media were under strain. Numerous mainstream outlets have been bought by China-backed figures or pro-establishment businesses, shrinking the diversity of voices. In recent years, vigilantes have carried out attacks against senior editors and Beijing has harassed officials from Cantonese newspapers. And since protests began last summer, the government in Hong Kong has also sought to curb journalists’ freedoms. Dissatisfied with honest accounts of official malfeasance, the authorities have sought to stifle some of the city’s most cutting voices. Radio Television Hong Kong, the government-funded broadcaster that operates akin to the BBC, drew an official rebuke when a reporter pressed a World Health Organization adviser over the contentious issue of Taiwan’s inclusion in the global body and after its long-running satirical program took aim at the Hong Kong police. That program, Headliner, has since been suspended. Top newsroom executives have stepped down, and the broadcaster is now under government review. Police continue to harass journalists reporting on protests, which have shrunk dramatically in size and frequency due to a combination of the pandemic, new police tactics, and the national security law.

The new law has worsened the climate further. Reporters and editors in Hong Kong have been left wondering what journalistic activity may now constitute a crime, and they have received few assurances from the city’s leaders. A number of local newspaper columnists have resigned from their positions, fearing that they may fall afoul of the national-security law. This month, The New York Times announced that it would move a portion of its staff to South Korea, a decision that is likely to be followed by other foreign outlets; at least three major Western news organizations, including the Times and The Wall Street Journal, are facing delays in securing new visas or visa renewals for their staff, according to people familiar with the details who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The purpose of the law is precisely to manufacture a climate of fear among all the governed here,” Kwai-Chueng Lo, the head of the writing program at Hong Kong Baptist University who has researched Hong Kong’s media, told me. [Source]

The article’s primary focus, in line with long-running concerns about the paper’s editorial independence, was tension amid the past year’s protests between reporters and "senior editors who often appeared to be overly deferential to authorities and largely unquestioning of police narratives, even as evidence of misconduct mounted." SCMP executive editor Chow Chung-yan responded that "few media outlets have covered this complex and rapidly unfolding story with such rigour and integrity," and claimed that McLaughlin’s piece "fails the test of journalistic objectivity and rigour," and "cherry-picked quotes, incidents and examples of the Post’s work to fit its narrative." Former SCMP editor James Griffiths described the piece as "a fantastic portrait," though, while Charles Clark, another former staff member, posted that he "can confirm this is a startlingly accurate insight into SCMP’s newsroom."

The unusual visa delays McLaughlin noted indicate that Hong Kong is becoming a new front in this year’s exchange of media restrictions between the Chinese and American governments. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Steven Butler commented late last month that "many observers say the U.S. government has badly misplayed its hand, resulting in the decimation of American media operations in China while Chinese operations in the U.S. suffer much less impact. And, even though a group of experts is working on recommendations to repair the damage, prospects for recovery are dim." In a New York Times op-ed last month, Ian Johnson, whose journalist visa was cancelled in March, similarly described the escalating exchange of measures as a policy of “blind confrontation” which has had little effect beyond having “gutted the American press corps in China.”

Last week, a prominent state media editor claimed that after capping visas for Chinese employees of any foreign media organization at 90 days, the U.S. had failed to renew any of them. At a press briefing last Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin promised "necessary and legitimate reactions" if the U.S. persisted with "political oppression on the Chinese media and journalists," and hinted that Hong Kong-based journalists would indeed be targeted: "You also asked whether US journalists in Hong Kong will be affected. I want to tell you that the HKSAR is part of China. The Central Government has the diplomatic authority to react to US oppression of Chinese media organizations in the US."

Subsequently, a China Daily editorial decried "hostile actions against Chinese journalists based in the United States" as the work of a "cabal of wackadoodles" "guided by the decomposing guidebook of Reaganite strategy" in "warming up the cadaver of its crusade against socialism."

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong condemned restrictions by both sides in a statement on August 6:

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is aware of recent examples of delays involving the issuing of visas to foreign journalists in Hong Kong, as well as suggestions by the Chinese government that more foreign journalists could face repercussions in response to U.S. actions. The FCC calls on the Trump administration to lift its restrictions on Chinese media working in the U.S., and on Hong Kong and China’s governments to refrain from retribution in targeting U.S. media and journalists working in Hong Kong.

The FCC opposes using journalists’ visas as a weapon in international disputes and also opposes taking action against journalists for the decisions made by their home countries.

[…] In Hong Kong, several media outlets have published reports about delays in issuing new or renewed visas to journalists working in the city. The delays have affected journalists of multiple nationalities and in some cases have prevented journalists from working. The delays are highly unusual for Hong Kong, a city with historically robust press protections.

The FCC has urged the Hong Kong government to clarify the impact of the new national security law on journalists working in the city, and has asked the government to guarantee, among other things, that journalists will be free to continue their work without intimidation or obstruction. So far, Hong Kong authorities have not provided such clarity or guarantees.

This downward spiral of retaliatory actions aimed at journalists helps no one, not least of all the public that needs accurate, professionally produced information now more than ever. [Source]

On Monday, The Standard reported that "the immigration department has set up a new national security unit to handle sensitive visa applications, such as those from foreign media and Taiwanese organizations":

The department has never publicized such a unit in the past, but it was reported that this section was responsible for delays in visa renewals for several foreign media organisations, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

It was also reported that the department delayed visa renewals for technical reasons.

For example, if an editor does not mention that reporting is part of the job duties in the first visa application, his or her visa renewal could be delayed or rejected if the editor was found to be reporting on a protest.

[…] A source confirmed the new unit’s existence to The Standard.

It is understood the visa applications of foreign journalists have to go through the new national security unit, which was established at the end of June and is led by a chief immigration officer in the Quality Migrants and Mainland Residents Section. [Source]

AFP’s Xinqi Su and Jerome Taylor summed up Hong Kong’s first month under the National Security Law on Sunday:

Teenager Tony Chung said he was walking outside a shopping mall when police officers from Hong Kong’s new national security unit swooped, bundled him into a nearby stairwell and tried to scan his face to unlock his phone.

Chung’s alleged crime was to write comments on social media that endangered national security, one of four students — including a 16-year-old girl — detained for the same offence that day.

[…] "I think night just fell on Hong Kong," the 19-year-old told AFP after his release on bail, the investigation ongoing.

[…] Despite assurances that the law would only target an "extreme minority", certain peaceful political views became illegal overnight and the precedent-setting headlines have come at a near-daily rate.

"The overnight change was so dramatic and so severe, it felt as momentous as a second handover," Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong lawyer who has written books about the city’s politics, told AFP.

"I don’t think anyone expected it would be as broad-reaching as it proved to be, nor that it would be immediately wielded in such a draconian way as to render a whole range of previously acceptable behaviour suddenly illegal." [Source]

Louisa Lim also gave an overview of Hong Kong’s "new normal" in an op-ed at The Guardian on August 2:

Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong is unfolding at such a pace that the daily news has become a horror show of epic proportions. July began with the imposition of draconian national security legislation enacted sight unseen, even by Hong Kong’s leader, chief executive Carrie Lam. It ended with the sacking of a tenured professor, the arrests of four students for social media posts, the electoral disqualification of 12 pro-democracy politicians, the delay of legislative elections for a year and the issuance of arrest warrants for pro-democracy activists overseas under the new legislation.

In normal times, each of these acts would spark outrage and protests, but this onslaught has been too fast and too overwhelming to fully report, let alone counter, especially during a pandemic when gatherings of more than two people have been banned. Put simply, within a single month, Beijing has dismantled a partially free society and is trying to use its new law to enforce global censorship on speech regarding Hong Kong.

[…] The new normal is abnormal in the extreme, a city where library books have been pulled from the shelves and a protest song banned in schools. Beijing has lost patience both with Hongkongers and with the Hong Kong government’s own inability to restore order after months of sometimes violent street demonstrations. Before the national security law was introduced, Lam promised it would target only “an extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts”, leaving the basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority protected. The hollowness of these words reveals the impotence and irrelevance of her administration. [Source]

Samuel Chu, one of six activists outside Hong Kong against whom police have issued arrest warrants under the new law, noted in a New York Times op-ed on Monday that this "new normal" extends beyond the city itself:

[… E]very provision of this law — which was concocted in Beijing and enacted without the Hong Kong legislature — applies to everyone outside of Hong Kong. Nobody is beyond the law’s reach, not me in the United States, and certainly not the estimated 85,000 Americans living and working in Hong Kong itself.

My surprising new status as an international fugitive illustrates the imminent threat to free expression that pro-democracy activists have consistently warned about over the past year.

[…] I fear that I can no longer travel to Hong Kong, or to any countries with active extradition treaties with the Hong Kong administrative government or with China, without risking arrest and extradition. I cannot speak to my elderly parents in Hong Kong without opening them to investigations and invasive searches by the police.

I won’t be the only person sought by China for punishment of some sort. And if I can be targeted, any citizen of any nation who speaks out for Hong Kong can be, too. [Source]


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