Hong Kong: 'Disturbing' arrest of newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai threatens press freedom

‘Apple Daily’ office raid is first time national security law used to search media outlet

National security unit set up to vet ‘sensitive’ visa applications from foreign media

Responding to today’s arrests of prominent Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai and six others under the territory’s controversial national security law following a police raid on Lai’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper, Amnesty International warned that media freedom was under threat in Hong Kong.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said:

“The arrest of Jimmy Lai for allegedly ‘colluding with foreign powers’ is a disturbing demonstration of how the Hong Kong authorities intend to use the new national security law to threaten press freedom.

“It appears that Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily have been targeted due to the newspaper’s criticism of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

“Penalising a media outlet, publisher or journalist solely for being critical of the government or the policies it promotes, is a restriction of the right to freedom of expression that can never be justified.

“The authorities’ allegation of ‘foreign collusion’ against Jimmy Lai and others – so far without explanation – highlights how this overly-broad and vague provision of the national security law can be used to prosecute those with different political views.

“The authorities must drop all national security-related criminal charges against people connected to Apple Daily and immediately cease the harassment and intimidation of journalists in Hong Kong.”

Crackdown on the press

Jimmy Lai, the owner of pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested this morning for “collusion with a foreign country or external elements” under the national security law that took effect in Hong Kong on 30 June.

Others arrested include four members of the paper’s staff and Lai’s two sons.

Hong Kong police said that all seven were being investigated under Article 29 of the National Security Law, along with alleged conspiracy to defraud and other offences for which they could face a maximum of life imprisonment. Police warned more arrests may be made.

Hong Kong police raided the Apple Daily office – the first time the national security law has been used as a means to mount a search at a media outlet’s premises – and a restaurant owned by Jimmy Lai’s son.

The central Chinese and Hong Kong governments have long accused individuals and civil society organisations of being steered by “foreign forces” in their activities, such as organising and attending peaceful protests, receiving donations and criticising the government. Under the national security law, anyone who participates in these activities is potentially at risk of being charged for “colluding with foreign forces” and other new “crimes”.

Also today, media have reported that Hong Kong’s immigration department has set up a new national security unit to handle “sensitive visa applications”, such as those from foreign media and Taiwanese organisations. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong have warned that foreign journalists in Hong Kong have been experiencing delays to their visa applications.

Under international law and standards, a free, independent and diverse media plays an essential role in protecting the enjoyment of all human rights, including by facilitating the public’s right of access to information and ideas of all kinds.

 

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