Responding to today’s arrests of prominent publisher Jimmy Lai and six others under the national security law amid a police raid on the Apple Daily newspaper, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, 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. Penalizing 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.”
Jimmy Lai, owner of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested on Monday 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 more members of the paper’s staff and Lai’s two sons.
Hong Kong police said the seven were being investigated under Article 29 of the Hong Kong National Security Law, along with conspiracy to defraud and other offences for which they could face a maximum of life imprisonment. Police warned more arrests may be made.
Police also raided the Apple Daily office – the first time the national security law has been invoked to search a media outlet’s premises – and a restaurant owned by Jimmy Lai’s son.
The central and Hong Kong governments have long accused individuals and civil society organizations of being steered by “foreign forces” in their activities, such as organizing and attending peaceful protests, receiving donations and criticizing 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 on Monday, media 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 organizations. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong said last week that foreign journalists in Hong Kong had experienced delays to their visa applications.
Under international law and standards, a free, independent and diverse press 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.