The arrest of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was the “most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong’s free press,” the last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten has said.
Lai, founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and the Next Digital media group, was arrested Monday morning under the Hong Kong’s new national security law. Lai’s two sons, Lai Gin-yan and Chow Tat-kuen, were also apprehended by police.
Following the arrests, at least 100 police officers raided the headquarters of Apple Daily, sifting through files on desks, lining up staff for identification, and searching through the newsroom.
“The arrests of Jimmy Lai, his sons, and his media colleagues, and the raid by more than 100 police officers of the headquarters of his media group, are a further major attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms and way of life,” Lord Patten said in a statement released by NGO Hong Kong Watch.
Patten served as governor or Hong Kong from 1992 until the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997.
Can you imagine the newsrooms of @nytimes or @guardian encounter something like this? After HK police arrested @JimmyLaiApple, hundreds of police were sent to Apple Daily office without the search warrant. pic.twitter.com/mia12rSYyP
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) August 10, 2020
“This is the most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong’s free press,” Patten said.
“It will cause considerable anxiety to all who consider freedom of opinion and freedom of the press to be essential for Hong Kong’s survival as an international financial hub.
“The arrests will be regarded by a growing number of people as another large step towards turning Hong Kong into a replica of Beijing’s police state,” he added.
At 71 years old, Lai is one of a few remaining Hong Kong elite openly vocal about supporting the city’s pro-democracy movement.
In 2019, Lai met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.
“To arrest one of the most moderate, peaceful and internationally respected voices for democracy in Hong Kong—on charges of ‘collusion’ with foreign powers—sends the message that no one is safe in Hong Kong unless they stay completely silent and do exactly as Xi Jinping’s brutal regime says,” said human rights activist and China expert Benedict Rogers, who chairs Hong Kong Watch.
“The international community cannot let this stand,” he said in the statement. “Unless the Chinese Communist Party regime steps back from the brink, it has put itself on a collision course with the free world.”
Rogers urged the British government to impose immediate targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as other Hong Kong and Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the former British colony.
The Trump administration on Aug. 7 sanctioned Carrie Lam and 10 other Hong Kong and Chinese officials for undermining the city’s autonomy and freedoms.
The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets the officials possess, and generally bar Americans from doing business with them.
Yinyin Liao, Cathy He, and Eva Fu contributed to this report.