Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper has used its front page headline to vow it will “fight on” after its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested over suspected collusion with foreign forces under the new national security law.
Readers queued from the early hours to get copies of the pro-democracy tabloid on Tuesday, the day after police raided its offices and took Mr Lai into detention, the highest-profile arrest under Beijing’s new national security law.
“Apple Daily must fight on,” the front-page headline read, above an image of Mr Lai in handcuffs.
“The prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.”
More than 500,000 copies were printed, compared with the usual 100,000, the paper said on its website.
Mr Lai, who was born in mainland China and smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, is one of the most prominent democracy activists in the city and critics of Communist Party rule in Beijing.
His arrest comes amid a crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that has drawn international criticism and raised fears for freedoms promised by Beijing under a “one country, two systems” formula.
In the working-class neighbourhood of Mong Kok, dozens of people queued from as early as 2:00am (local time) to buy Mr Lai’s paper.
“What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally,” said 45-year-old Kim Yau as she bought a copy.
In another show of support, long queues formed at lunch time at the Cafe Seasons restaurant owned by Mr Lai’s son, Ian, who was also arrested on Monday.
Mr Lai was released on bail in the early hours of Wednesday.
As he emerged from the police station, the crowd waiting outside cheered as some held up copies of the Apple Daily and chanted “support Apple Daily, until the very end.”
Mr Lai was driven away waving at supporters and giving them a thumbs-up.
The sweeping security law imposed on June 30 punishes secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
The city’s Beijing-backed Government and Chinese authorities say the law is necessary to restore order after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year, sparked by fears China was slowly eroding those freedoms.
Hong Kong has since become another source of contention between the United States and China, whose relations were already at their most strained in years over issues including trade, the coronavirus, China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority and its claims in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called Mr Lai a “patriot”, saying Beijing had “eviscerated” Hong Kong’s freedoms.
The United Kingdom said Mr Lai’s arrest was further evidence the security law was a “pretext to silence opposition”.
China’s embassy replied that London should stop “using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit” the law.
‘Dancing with the enemy’
Police detained Mr Lai on Monday for suspected collusion with foreign forces after about 200 officers searched the newspaper’s offices, collecting 25 boxes of evidence.
Handcuffed and apparently wearing the same clothes after spending the night in jail, he was driven by police on Tuesday to his yacht which police searched, according to media footage.
Beijing has labelled Mr Lai a “traitor” in the past and issued a statement supporting his arrest.
The Beijing-backed China Daily tabloid newspaper said in an editorial Mr Lai’s arrest showed “the cost of dancing with the enemy”.
Police arrested 10 people in all on Monday, including other Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, one of the former leaders of young activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto pro-democracy group, which disbanded before the new law came into force.
Ms Chow was released on bail late on Tuesday, calling the arrest of herself and other activists “political persecution”.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has managed to sustain broad support across the community.
Shares in Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, surged for a second day, gaining more than 2,078 per cent from Friday’s close, after online pro-democracy forums called on investors to show support.
Its market value rose as high as HK$5.17 billion ($930 million) from some HK$200 million.