Defying China, Hong Kong people flock to pro-democracy tabloid, boss released

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The pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily sold like hot cakes on Tuesday in Hong Kong, illustration of the public’s support for its owner Jimmy Lai, arrested Monday during a police operation targeting other voices critical of Beijing and released under deposit Tuesday evening.

• Read also: Taiwan fears becoming “the next Hong Kong”

• Read also: The action of Jimmy Lai’s press group up 788% since his arrest

Mr. Lai, 71, emerged from the police station around midnight local time amid a crowd of supporters, an AFP reporter noted.

Signs of a strong recovery in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong have multiplied since Beijing imposed a very repressive national security law in June, as a response to months of unprecedented protest in 2019, when millions of people took to the streets.

Jimmy Lai, a wealthy press magnate, was one of 10 people arrested Monday in a wide net against the pro-democracy movement, before about 200 police officers raided the editorial room of his newspaper, very critical of Beijing.

Another sign of the popularity of the opposition in the former British colony, its inhabitants rushed to newsstands on Tuesday to get the Apple Daily, which had anticipated this request by exceptionally printing 550,000 copies, against 70,000 normally.

A restaurateur in the working-class district of Mongkok bought about 50 copies, explaining that he intended to distribute them free of charge to his customers. “Since the government does not want the Apple Daily to survive, we Hong Kong people have to save it ourselves,” said the man, calling himself Ng.

A sign of the prevailing concern about the new security law, fewer and fewer Hong Kongers agree to disclose their identity.

“We will fight”

“We will fight,” proclaimed the Apple Daily on Tuesday, a promise written in bright red on a full-page photo of Jimmy Lai framed by police officers.

His arrest sparked a wave of stock purchases in his Next Digital press group. Between Monday morning and the close of the Stock Exchange Tuesday evening, the title took more than 1100%.

The arrests and the search were condemned as “unprecedented” attacks on press freedom, of which Hong Kong was once a stronghold, attacks that were unimaginable just a few months ago.

“The police are now openly fighting press freedom. I am very angry, ”a woman calling herself Chan, who bought 16 copies of the newspaper, told Mongkok.

Seen as Beijing’s response to months of pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019, the National Security Law imposed on June 30 gives local authorities new powers to crack down on four types of crimes against the security of the state: subversion, separatism, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.

Many activists for democracy denounce a liberticidal text which, according to them, comes to an end with the principle “One country, two systems” established during the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, which guaranteed freedoms until 2047 to Hong Kong people. unknown in the rest of China.

” Troublemaker “

They are further concerned that Beijing is using similar laws to muzzle protests elsewhere in its territory.

Several foreign leaders have expressed concern over this new crackdown, including US Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, whom Jimmy Lai had met last year, and who saw his arrest as “further proof that the Chinese Communist Party has gutted Hong Kong’s freedoms and the rights of its people ”.

Mr. Lai, 71, was arrested for collusion with foreign forces and fraud. An initiative hailed by Beijing, which presented it as “an anti-Chinese troublemaker” having conspired with foreigners to “cause chaos”.

Two of his sons were also arrested, as were the young pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow and Wilson Li, a former activist posing as a freelance writer working for the British channel ITV News.

Several hours before Mr. Lai, Agnes Chow had already been released on bail Tuesday evening. “It is obvious that the regime and the government are using the national security law to suppress political opponents,” she told reporters after her release.

During a press briefing on Monday evening, police accused those arrested of having previously participated in a group that lobbied for sanctions to be imposed on Hong Kong.

“This group was still active after the entry into force of the security law,” accused Li Kwai-wah, a senior police official.

On Monday, Beijing announced sanctions against 11 US officials, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in retaliation for similar measures Washington took on Friday against Chinese officials accused of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, including Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.

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