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Hong Kong

Hong Kong daily vows to fight for democracy after owner's arrest

Newspaper's owner is charged with suspected collusion with foreign forces under new security law

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: August 12, 2020 01:59 AM GMT
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Hong Kong daily vows to fight for democracy after owner's arrest

A volunteer holds a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper handed out by pro-democracy district councilors in Hong Kong on Aug. 11, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters after the company’s founder Jimmy Lai was arrested under the new national security law. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)

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Hong Kong's Apple Daily showed its defiance at the arrest of its owner under the draconian national security law and published a front-page image of Jimmy Lai in handcuffs under the headline "Fight on".

A day after police made the high-profile arrest of Catholic philanthropist Lai, many readers queued in the early hours of Aug. 11 to buy copies of the pro-democracy newspaper.

Due to demand, more than 500,000 copies were published instead of the regular 100,000, the daily said on its website.

"Yesterday will not be the darkest day for Apple Daily as the subsequent nuisances, suppression and arrests will continue to induce fear in us," an editorial in the Aug. 11 edition said.

"Nevertheless, 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."

The newspaper office in the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok was crowded with anxious readers. A few vendors said they sold out all their copies during the morning peak hour.

"All Hong Kongers with a conscience have to support Hong Kong today, support Apple Daily," a reader, Kim Yau, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. "What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally."

Since the government is acting against Apple Daily, we to have to “save it ourselves," another reader was quoted by AFP as saying.

Following calls by various online pro-democracy forums, investors pumped money into Lai's media company, Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.

The company’s shares showed an astronomical rise of 400 percent on Aug. 11. The tabloid, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is reeling under financial strain. In 2019 it was the most read paid-for newspaper in Hong Kong, both in print and online. 

Lai, 72, has donated millions of dollars to Catholic causes and has been Cardinal Joseph Zen’s biggest financial backer.

Lai, an ardent critic of Beijing and a close confidant of Cardinal Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, is charged with suspected collusion with foreign forces under the new security law imposed by China on June 30.

Ten people including Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, a leading member of Demosisto, a group founded by pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong that was disbanded before the new law became operational, were held on Aug. 10. Two of Lai’s sons were also arrested.

Lai made his fortune through mid-market fashion chain Giordano before floating Next Media and Apple Daily. He is estimated to be worth more than US$1 billion.

In an interview, Lai had told the BBC that the introduction of the national security law was “the death knell for Hong Kong.”

In a late-night briefing, police said the arrested persons had previously lobbied for foreign sanctions. "After the national security law came into force,” they are still active, senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah told media.

Lai supported and participated in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019. 

Unnamed confirmed reports said that Apple Daily was arranging lawyers for Lai.

Pro-Beijing China Daily newspaper wrote in an Aug. 11 editorial that Lai's arrest showed "the cost of dancing with the enemy."

The Chinese-backed Global Times described Lai as a "riot supporter" and termed his publications as "instigating hatred, spreading rumors and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years."

In the past, Beijing has labeled Lai a "traitor."

Reacting to the arrest, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Lai a "patriot" and condemned his arrest.

Cardinal Zen and the Diocese of Hong Kong's Justice and Peace Commission have vociferously backed the pro-democracy movement in the city-state.

The sweep of arrests on Aug. 10 showed that China will implement the new security law with an iron fist.

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