Tue, 22 Sep 2020

HONG KONG - A pro-democracy newspaper raided by Hong Kong's newly established national security police pledged defiance on Tuesday in the face of a growing crackdown on dissent in the city as its founder Jimmy Lai was questioned by police following his arrest for "fraud" and "colluding with foreign powers."

"The Apple Daily will keep up the fight!" its front-page headline read, as readers lined up to buy copies of the paper to show support from the early hours of the morning, prompting the paper to boost its print run to 550,000 copies from its usual 70,000 to keep up with demand.

And Tsang Chi-ho, who once hosted the banned satirical news show Headliner, left his column in the Apple Daily blank save for one line in English: "You can't kill us all."

Some readers bulk-bought the paper and left copies of it on the street for passers-by to read free of charge, while thousands watched a live video stream of the paper's print run on Facebook.

An employee at a convenience store stocking the newspaper on Tuesday said people wanted to make a statement about press freedom.

"We don't just want one kind of newspaper in Hong Kong," the employee said. "This is our freedom of the press that's at stake."

A passer-by told RFA they didn't recognize their city any more.

"The political suppression of dissent and an atmosphere of fear have become really obvious, really blatant now, and it seems a bit too much," they said.

The Apple Daily said in an editorial that Monday's raid during which national security police removed hundreds of boxes of materials after searching journalists and their desks, likely wouldn't be the lowest point for the paper.

"Yesterday will not be the darkest day for the Apple Daily. There will be further harassment, suppression and arrests in an attempt to keep us in fear," the editorial said.

"But ... as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and the Apple Daily will keep up the fight," it said.

Support for Lai family

Lines of would-be diners also appeared outside Cafe Seasons, a restaurant owned by Lai's son Ian, who was arrested at the same time as his father.

Customers said they wanted to show support for the family following the Lais' arrest under draconian national security legislation imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party since July 1, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Activists in mainland China also showed support for the paper, sending requests on social media to Hongkongers to buy copies of the Apple Daily on their behalf.

Activist Ou Biaofeng said he had posted support on social media for Lai and the newspaper, although he was unable to buy it in his home city, where it is banned.

"I was very angry to hear the news of Lai's arrest by police yesterday," Ou said. "I feel so sad about the way things turned out in Hong Kong, and I wanted to make my opinions known."

Hunan-based freelance writer Ma Xiao said many in mainland China recognize that the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong effectively transplants mainland China's state security enforcement regime to the city.

"People in mainland China are expressing their support for Hong Kong's seven million residents in their struggle for freedom and democracy, through their support for the Apple Daily and Jimmy Lai," Ma said.

Meanwhile, China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee gave its official seal of approval to plans by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to postpone elections to the city's legislature for one year, voting through an extension enabling members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) to sit for another year.

Postponing, barring candidates

The postponement of the LegCo elections is ostensibly because of coronavirus concerns, but comes amid fear of a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in the wake of months of anti-government and pro-democracy protests in the city.

Pro-democracy candidates swept the board in last November's elections for the District Council, a body that had previously been dominated by pro-China groups for years.

While the authorities have already barred four incumbents LegCo members -- Dennis Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung -- from running again, claiming that their candidacy didn't qualify under the new national security requirements, the NPC standing committee said they would be permitted to serve until the next election in September 2021, RTHK reported.

Twitter users on Tuesday launched the #FreeAgnes hashtag campaign calling on the authorities to release Agnes Chow, a former leader of the political party Demosisto, which disbanded before the national security law took effect for fear of endangering its members.

Photos of Chow, 23, being led away from her home by police after her arrest on suspicion of "colluding with foreign forces" circulated on social media along with calls for her release.

Chow, who has been an activist since the age of 15, made world headlines in 2018 after she was barred from running in a LegCo by-election because of her political views.

A veteran of a campaign by schoolchildren to overturn China's "patriotic education" program in Hong Kong's schools, and of the 2014 Umbrella movement, Chow is one of the first opposition politicians to be arrested under the new law, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

She is also currently being prosecuted for taking part in last year's protest movement, alongside fellow Demosisto founder and student activist Joshua Wong.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said via Twitter that Lai's arrest was further proof that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has effectively put an end to Hong Kong's traditional freedoms.

"I'm deeply troubled by reports of the arrest of @JimmyLaiApple under Hong Kong's draconian National Security Law," Pompeo tweeted. "Further proof that the CCP has eviscerated Hong Kong's freedoms and eroded the rights of its people."

In Washington late Monday, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien called Lai and his staff "powerful voices for the fundamental rights and liberties that Beijing guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong, but that it now systematically attacks."

"These arrests are also a clear effort to intimidate pro-democracy and political opposition figures and suppress Hong Kong's free and independent media, which have played key roles in the city's character and success," he said in a statement.

Reported by Lau Siu-fung, Fok Leung-kiu, Man Hoi-tsan and Wu Hoi-man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long and Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Copyright 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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