On Monday, a 71-year-old- pro-democracy activist and media leader Jimmy Lai was reportedly arrested by the Hong Kong police under the draconian security law brought by China over accusations of foreign collusion. His detention is the first high-profile arrest made as per the new security law.
Reportedly, Lai facing charges for orchestrating anti-China protests in Hong Kong. Lai is the founder of the news portal, Apple daily. According to Mark Simon, an aide of Lai, the Hong Kong police executed a search warrant at the office. Police officials in plainclothes barged into the premises carrying plastic evidence tubs and walked through piles of paper. Later, a handcuffed Lai was brought into the office. His son has also been arrested.
The Hong Kong police claimed that a total of seven people, aged between 59 and 72, were arrested on suspicion of committing fraud and colluding with foreign powers to subvert national security of the country. Hong Kong police inform that those arrested aged between 59 to 72. “The police operation is still ongoing and does not rule out more arrests,” the force said.
Declining Press Freedom in Hong Kong
Although Hong Kong has enjoyed a high level of ‘press freedom’ as compared to China, Lai’s arrest marks the beginning of a change. Reportedly, several foreign journalists have complained that their visas were not being renewed. The immigration department in Hong Kong has set up a national security unit to decline ‘sensitive visas’, including that of journalists.
According to activist Eddie Chu-hoi Dick, the Chinese Communist Party wants to gag pro-democracy voices in the country such as Apple Daily. “Lai’s arrest is the first step of [a] HK media blackout, he was quoted as saying. China academic Jeffrey Wasserstrom informed that the draconian move was linked with the recent sanctions by the US. ‘They are also part of an ongoing trend, blow after blow against people and institutions in Hong Kong linked to its vibrant civil society,” he stated.
Charges of ‘foreign collusion’ against Jimmy Lai
Reportedly, Lai may face a prison sentence of 10 years or for life, if found guilty of collusion with foreign forces. In Hong Kong, foreign collusion refers to conspiring on the behest of a foreign entity to disrupt the government, undermine elections, or impose sanctions. Reportedly, the use of ‘unlawful means’ to provoke residents against the government of Hong Kong or China is a punishable offence.
According to China’s mouthpiece Global Times, Lai is unlikely to get bail and may face ‘heavy penalties’ along with 25 others who have been charged for participating in a Tiananmen Square massacre vigil on June 4 this year. The new laws brought in by China allows it t extradite offenders from Hong Kong and hold their trials in mainland China.
Breakdown of election machinery
Last week, the elections in Hong Kong were postponed for a year allegedly in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, several pro-democracy leaders were disqualified. Countries such as Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have urged Hong Kong to hold elections at the earliest. Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab had also expressed deep concerns about the delay in elections and the disqualification of pro-democratic candidates. “We call on the Hong Kong government to reinstate the eligibility of disqualified candidates. We urge the Hong Kong government to hold the elections as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
China introduces new National Security Law in Hong Kong
The Communist Party of China had introduced a new national security law for Hong Kong, which introduces new crimes with severe penalties – up to life in prison – and allows Chinese security forces to legally operate in Hong Kong. The legislation gives extensive powers to China, which is intended to quell the ongoing protests in the Hong Kong demanding liberation from the occupation of Chinese. The legislation enables China to bring Hong Kong protestors to the mainland, prosecute and sentence them there. It also significantly restricts the city’s autonomy. Last week, the USA senate had passed a bill that seeks to sanction Chinese individuals and banks that help in restricting Hong Kong’s autonomy.
With the new law coming to effect, China has reportedly arrested dozens of peaceful protestors under the new sweeping national security laws imposed on the autonomous region of Hong Kong. India had also raised the issue at the UN last month.