The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong strongly condemns the arrest of Apple Daily founder and chairman Jimmy Lai and eight others, as well as a police raid on the newspaper’s headquarters that was reportedly carried out by almost 200 officers.
The arrests, and the raid on the newsroom, are a direct assault on Hong Kong’s press freedom and signal a dark new phase in the erosion of the city’s global reputation. Today’s events raise worries that such actions are being used to erase basic freedoms in Hong Kong.
The arrests and the raid were carried out under the new National Security Law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese central authorities in Beijing, with no input from Hong Kong. Mainland and Hong Kong officials have given repeated assurances that the new law will target only a tiny number of offenders and that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms, including freedom of the press, would go unhindered.
Today’s police action upends those assurances. According to the police statement, Mr. Lai was arrested under the section of the law pertaining to collusion with foreign forces. So far, police have provided no public evidence of any crimes, and under the National Security Law, where trials can be conducted entirely in secret, no evidence may be forthcoming.
Police said that nine people between the ages of 23 and 72 had been arrested on suspicion of breaches of the national security law and that the operation was continuing. Alleged offences include collusion with foreign forces or external elements endangering national security.
Mr. Lai has long been known as a staunch advocate of democracy in Hong Kong and a critic of the Chinese Communist Party. Apple Daily, which he founded in 1995, is one of the city’s most popular newspapers because of its pro-democracy stance. He recently opened a Twitter account, and publicly speculated in a May 29 New York Times opinion piece that he was likely to be jailed soon for his pro-democracy views and criticisms of the Communist Party.
Just as troubling as the arrests was the subsequent police action at the Next Digital offices, where uniformed police entered and set up cordons with orange tape, questioned journalists and took down their identifying information, and were seen rifling through notes and papers on reporters’ desks. All of this was witnessed via live-streaming by Apple Daily reporters who continued to video this breach of press freedom and provide continuous coverage online.
During the raid on the newsroom, the Hong Kong Police Force blocked several local and international media outlets from a press briefing at the Apple Daily headquarters about the events. Police at the scene said “only those who’ve not been obstructing police in the past are invited” for the briefing.
Hong Kong has no system of press accreditation, which has been one of the hallmarks of its role as a bastion of press freedom in Asia. In the absence of an accreditation system, it seems some police officers are substituting their judgment as to which media outlets they consider “friendly” and allowed to cover important briefings, and which media they can block.
Police later said those media outlets blocked could watch the police force’s livestream and did not permit journalists present to ask questions. The FCC condemns this development. A livestream provided by the Police Public Relations Bureau is not a substitute for impartial media outlets being able to conduct their own reporting, shoot their own video and provide their own news coverage.
The FCC would like to remind the Hong Kong Police Force that they should not be “inviting” favoured media outlets to cover operations, events and briefings, and barring others. If the police are allowed to decide who counts as a legitimate journalist, it will mark the end of press freedom in Hong Kong, and no critical coverage available to the public. Instead of the free flow of information, Hong Kong will have only propaganda.
In his May 29 op-ed piece, Mr. Lai warned of the chilling effect the National Security Law would have on Hong Kong. “Every sentence, every word will carry the risk of potential punishment on the mainland,” he wrote. “When it comes to free speech, this law will remodel Hong Kong so that it becomes like the rest of China.”
Unfortunately, today’s events make Mr. Lai’s warning even more prescient.
FCC, Hong Kong
10 August 2020
Post Date: August 10, 2020