Apple Daily’s core support comes out in force  

Defying China, Hong Kongers rush to buy pro-democracy newspaper

by AFP
Apple Daily’s core support comes out in force  
An Apple a Day: A volunteer poses holding a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper - paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors - before handing them out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, 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. Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested on August 10 and led in handcuffs through his newspaper office as police raided the building, part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent since China imposed a security law on the city. Photo: ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP

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 the city 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 against 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.

In a display of solidarity for Lai, people in the city rushed to buy Tuesday's Apple Daily, with the newspaper saying it had upped its print run to 550,000 from its normal circulation of 70,000.

READ MORE: China sanctions 11 Americans in retaliation for US move

One restaurant owner bought 50 copies at a news stand 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, told AFP, 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".

With Hong Kongers too fearful to stage mass protests like last year, and with events in recent weeks showing even dissenting social media posts could be punished, some looked to other inventive ways to show solidarity.

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 rose by more than 1,100 percent.

'Eviscerated'

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.

Prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow looks out of a car window while being driven away by police from her home after she was arrested under the new national security law in Hong Kong late on August 10, 2020. Chow was arrested late on August 10 under China's new national security, a police source and a statement on her verified Facebook account said.

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 describes himself as a freelancer working for Britain's ITV News.

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 told AFP on Tuesday that the newspaper is consulting with its legal team to apply for a temporary injunction against the police.

It hopes to stop the force from examining and using the reporting materials they took from the raid and search of the newsroom.

"We must protect these materials," Law said.

'Barbarous' sanctions

Critics believe the security law has ended the key liberties and autonomy that Beijing promised Hong Kong could keep after its 1997 handover by Britain.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Lai's arrest as "further proof" that Chinese authorities had "eviscerated Hong Kong's freedoms and eroded the rights of its people".

"We're going to respond in real ways," Pompeo later promised in an interview with Newsmax.

The United States had last week already imposed sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials -- including city leader Carrie Lam -- in response to the crackdown.

China condemned the sanctions as "barbarous" and imposed retaliatory sanctions on some senior American politicians and leading human rights campaigners.

Hong Kong's police has said those arrested were part of a group that had previously lobbied for foreign sanctions.

"After the national security law came into force, this group was still active," senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah told reporters.

In response to objections made by Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club to the arrests, the Chinese foreign ministry warned that "eagerly justifying Jimmy Lai is nothing short of siding with the forces sowing trouble in Hong Kong and China at large".

"We call on the FCC, Hong Kong to respect the facts, distinguish right from wrong, and stop smearing under the pretext of press freedom the implementation of the National Security Law," it said.

READ MORE: Caught in the crossfire