We the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State are gravely concerned by the Hong Kong government’s unjust disqualification of candidates and disproportionate postponement of Legislative Council elections. These moves have undermined the democratic process that has been fundamental to Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.
We express deep concern at Beijing’s imposition of the new National Security Law, which is eroding the Hong Kong people’s fundamental rights and liberties.
We support the legitimate expectations of the people of Hong Kong to elect Legislative Council representatives via genuinely free, fair, and credible elections. We call on the Hong Kong government to reinstate the eligibility of disqualified candidates so that the elections can take place in an environment conducive to the exercise of democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Basic Law. Beijing promised autonomy and freedoms under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle to the Hong Kong people in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty, and must honor its commitments. We urge the Hong Kong government to hold the elections as soon as possible.
- Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Australia
- The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada
- The Rt Hon Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand
- The Rt Honourable Dominic Raab, MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State, United Kingdom
- Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, United States
Source: US Department of State
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under China’s national security law
One of Hong Kong’s most strident pro-democracy figures has been arrested and the newspaper he runs searched by police in a stark escalation by authorities enforcing new national security laws brought in by Beijing.
The raid on Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy daily paper, and arrest of Jimmy Lai and senior executives, were condemned by activists and journalists, who said they marked “the day press freedom officially died”.
Lai, a 71-year-old media tycoon and outspoken funder of the pro-democracy movement, was arrested alongside six others including his son, on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces” and conspiracy to commit fraud on Monday morning.
“The police operation is still ongoing and does not rule out more arrests,” the police force said.
Lai’s arrest, while not unexpected, has alarmed the city, which has been on edge after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law outlawing sedition and secessionist activities, and collusion with foreign forces.
Lai, who also holds UK citizenship, is the most high-profile figure detained under the law, and if charged with foreign collusion offences would faces potential sentences of three to 10 years in prison – or up to life for an offence “of a grave nature”.
In 2019 state media labelled him one of a new Gang of Four conspiring against Beijing. He is already facing several charges over involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests, and was one of 25 people charged on Friday over attending a Tiananmen Square massacre vigil on 4 June.
A report in hawkish Chinese state media mouthpiece The Global Times labelled Lai a “modern-day traitor” and suggested he was unlikely to receive bail and would face “heavy penalties”.
Hong Kong journalists have repeatedly warned the security laws would have a chilling affect on media in the territory.
Activist and legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick accused the Chinese Communist party of wanting to close Apple Daily, and said Lai’s arrest was “the first step of [a] HK media blackout”.
Hours after his arrest Lai was marched, handcuffed, through the Apple Daily newsroom as hundreds of police streamed into the building, confiscating documents and casually rifling through papers on journalists’ desks. Live streams of the raid were watched by tens of thousands, and appeared to give the lie to police claims that they would not be targeting any “news materials” in their search.
Later, police barred numerous news organisations including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, and the publicly funding broadcaster RTHK, from attending a press conference about the search.
The Hong Kong journalist association head, Chris Yeung, said the raid was “horrendous”. “I think in some third-world countries there has been this kind of press freedom suppression, I just didn’t expect it to be in Hong Kong,” he told media.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy legislator and a former journalist, said she was more surprised by the raid than the arrest.
“This is just so drastic and blatant,” she told the Guardian. “They’re sending a clear warning signal to the Hong Kong media, plus any foreign media stationed here, to behave, to watch out.”
Keith Richburg, veteran correspondent and now head of Hong Kong University’s media school, said the raid and arrests of Lai and newspaper executives were outrageous.
“I think that’s the day you can say that is the day press freedom officially died, and it didn’t die a natural death. It was killed by Beijing and it was killed by Carrie Lam and Hong Kong police.”
The police operation marked the first time the new security law has been used against media in Hong Kong, which has historically had a high level of press freedom. Last month the New York Times announced it was moving part of its Hong Kong bureau to South Korea, and several outlets have complained of foreign journalist visas not being renewed. On Monday the Standard news website reported the immigration department had established a national security unit to vet “sensitive” visa applications, including from journalists.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have promised the security law would not impinge on the city’s civil freedoms, including its independent press. “Today’s police action upends those assurances,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong said in a statement.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch, said: “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.”
The arrests prompted some speculation that it was retaliation for US sanctions against senior Hong Kong officials, including the chief executive, Carrie Lam. The accusations of foreign collusion against Lai have been at least partly driven by his meetings with and support from senior US figures including secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
In response to the US sanctions, China’s foreign ministry on Monday said that it would be placing sanctions on 11 US officials including senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Pat Toomey and congressman Chris Smith. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned the US for its “blatant interference” in China’s internal affairs.
On Monday afternoon the stock price of Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company owned by Lai, had risen more than 300% after some analysts reportedly said they would buy in support of Lai and in protest against his arrest.