HONG KONG: Hong Kongers rushed to buy pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Tuesday in a show of support for its owner, who was arrested a day earlier as police rounded up critics of China.
A crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong has gathered pace since China imposed a sweeping security law in June, with opposition politicians disqualified and activists arrested for social media posts.
The moves have provoked outrage in the West and fear for millions who last year took to the streets to protest communist China’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous city.
In one of the most dramatic days of the crackdown, media tycoon Jimmy Lai was among 10 people detained under the new law on Monday as around 200 police officers searched the newsroom of his tabloid, which is unapologetically critical of Beijing.
One restaurant owner bought 50 copies at a newsstand in the commercial district of Mong Kok and said he planned to give them away for free.
“Since the government doesn’t allow Apple Daily to survive, then we as Hong Kongers have to save it ourselves,” the man, who gave his surname as Ng, said, as dozens of people lined up around the city from the early hours.
The newspaper’s front page showed a picture of Lai being led away in handcuffs, with the headline “Apple will fight on”.
Lai’s arrest sparked a buying spree in shares of his media group, and between Monday morning and closing time on Tuesday its stock value had risen by more than 1,100 percent.
Hong Kong’s new national security law criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces. The most serious crimes under the law — which was introduced on June 30 and is not supposed to be retroactive — carry up to life in jail.
Its broadly worded provisions criminalised certain political speech overnight, such as advocating sanctions, and greater autonomy or independence for Hong Kong. Similar laws are used on the authoritarian mainland to snuff out opposition.
Lai, 71, was held on charges including colluding with foreign forces and fraud. The operation was hailed by Beijing, quick to declare him an “anti-China rabble-rouser” who conspired with foreigners to “stir up chaos”.
Among the others arrested were two of Lai’s sons, young pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow and Wilson Li, a former activist who works as a freelancer for Britain’s ITV News. Chow was released on bail late on Tuesday.
“It’s very obvious that the regime and the government are using the national security law to suppress political dissidents,” she told reporters after her release. Journalists at Lai’s Apple Daily had streamed dramatic footage on Facebook as police raided their offices with a handcuffed Lai in tow.
Chief editor Law Wai-kwong said on Tuesday that the newspaper is consulting with its legal team to apply for a temporary injunction against the police to stop them using the reporting materials taken during the search.