Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Dec. 14 voiced support for arrested Hong Kong activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, noting that his case demonstrates the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s threat to the free world.
“Jimmy Lai is a true patriot. He cares deeply about the people of Hong Kong, as does our administration … [Lai] was simply trying to speak about the basic rights for the people of Hong Kong,” stated Pompeo in an interview with Newsmax, according to a transcript from the State Department.
Pompeo added: “I fear that Hong Kong is becoming just another Chinese-run communist city, and that’s too bad.”
He said Lai’s arrest was another example of how Beijing has broken its “50-year commitment” to Hongkongers. The CCP promised not to interfere with Hong Kong’s basic freedoms for at least 50 years after the city was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lai owns the local newspaper Apple Daily, which is known for publishing views supportive of Hong Kong protesters and critical of the Chinese regime.
On Dec. 11, Lai was charged on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security,” for his activities between July 1 and Dec. 1 this year. The collusion charge is under the newly-implemented national security law and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Apple Daily, citing a police document, reported that local prosecutors used Lai’s Twitter posts and media interviews as evidence to charge Lai under the security law. He had previously spoken to the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fox News.
His offending Twitter activities included following the accounts of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen; Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British NGO Hong Kong Watch; and Luke de Pulford, a member of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Prosecutors also named two of Lai’s Twitter followers, Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi, who led the Tiananmen Square student protests in 1989, as evidence of collusion.
Some of the examples cited by prosecutors predated the national security law’s implementation. Article 39 of the national security law states that punishment and conviction apply to acts committed after the law took effect, late on June 30.
But prosecutors cited as evidence a meeting between Lai and Pompeo in Washington in July last year. According to the State Department, Lai and Pompeo had discussed Hong Kong’s autonomy and an extradition bill that has since been scrapped.
Also cited were several of Lai’s opinion articles printed in Apple Daily between December last year and June this year. One article published in June discussed whether Hongkongers should flee the city or continue to protest.
According to Apple Daily, Lai’s tweet on May 27 in which he tagged President Donald Trump, was also prosecutorial evidence. In the tweet, Lai called for Trump to impose sanctions on Chinese officials, such as freezing their bank accounts in the United States.
Former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Lai should not be prosecuted based on actions before the law took effect, while Hong Kong University law professor Johannes Chan, in an interview with Hong Kong media Mingpao, said that whom a person follows on Twitter cannot be the basis of the collusion charge, since collusion happens when two sides agree to cooperate.
Hong Kong’s Department of Justice, in a statement released on Saturday, said it was “appalled” by “some overseas politicians” demanding that Lai be released. It also accused them of “meddling” in “China’s internal affairs.”
International advocacy groups have also joined the call, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“The Hong Kong government has sought to silence media organizations and workers through the use of detentions and charges under these new national security laws,” stated IFJ in a Dec. 12 statement, adding that it “strongly condemns the groundless charges against Lai and the curtailment of press freedom in Hong Kong.”
In his interview, Pompeo also told Newmax: “I would evaluate the Chinese Communist Party as the greatest threat to security of the American people and indeed the free world of any of them that are out there.”
He added that the Donald Trump administration had “begun to turn the corner and build out a coalition all around the world of democracies and free market economies to push back against this threat.”
As an example, Pompeo pointed to how the State Department ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close down in July because Chinese officials were “running a spy operation out of what was supposed to be a diplomatic facility.”
Pompeo also made reference to agents of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s chief intelligence agency, saying “We’ve seen what they’ve done with respect to putting MSS officers up close to members of Congress.”
Last week, an investigative report by Axios revealed that an alleged MSS agent named Fang Fang or Christine Fang, developed close ties with several U.S. politicians in the San Francisco Bay Area between 2011 and 2015. She also had romantic or sexual relations with at least two mayors from cities in the Midwest to “gain proximity to political power.”
Pompeo warned: “Make no mistake about it: They [China] are trying to influence the way our elected officials and our candidates think about China.”