By Li Ping
Yesterday, Hong Kong police detained Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, and a number of senior staff over alleged violations of the National Security Law (NSL). Soon after the arrests, about 200 police officers raided the headquarters of Apple Daily and searched the departments for nearly nine hours. After the US announced sanctions on eleven Hong Kong and mainland officials, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Hong Kong failed to offer reciprocal sanctions against US government officials. Instead, they avenged Hong Kong’s independent media, suppressing the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech, a move with intentions clear to everyone. Yesterday will not be the darkest day for Apple Daily as the subsequent nuisances, suppressions and arrests will continue to induce fear in us. Nevertheless, the prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.
After the US announced sanctions on eleven Hong Kong and mainland officials last Friday, people familiar with China and Hong Kong’s political situation have warned that Apple Daily is at high risk. It is impossible for China to take revenge against US government officials, an eye for an eye. Even with the previous confrontation on the human rights issue in Xinjiang, China was only able to retaliate against individual US congressmen. This time, China flew into a rage out of humiliation with the US' sanction against Hong Kong, hence will definitely take it out on Hong Kong. Even if Apple Daily, the thorn in the flesh, cannot be uprooted immediately, severe countersanctions will be imposed.
Sure enough, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday announced sanctions on eleven Americans, including six members of Congress and five executives of human rights organizations. They obviously have no assets in China hence such reprisal is really pointless and the CCP must seek another way to vent their anger. Punishing the founder and senior executives of Next Digital can kill three birds with one stone. The CCP can throw a tantrum and unleash its fury, display again to the world its wolf-warrior strength and power, and intimidate Hong Kong media and people with precedents of criminal consequences when one colludes with foreign forces under the NSL.
What’s farcical is that while the Hong Kong police announced yesterday afternoon that the operation involved the arrest of at least nine individuals to cover up the real political prosecution of Next Digital, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), however, issued a statement in the evening that it firmly supports police on the “arrest of Jimmy Lai and six other suspects.” That is to say that the HKMAO does not support police on the arrests of the other two suspects? In fact, this reveals that the police’s actions against Next Digital were instructed by Beijing, but then their pretenses were exposed by the master. How does the international community view China’s sanctions on the executives of human rights organizations? How do they view the NSL as a tool to deprive the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech? Will another round of sanctions list be proposed under the Magnitsky Act? For a spur-of-the-moment gratification, the CCP couldn't care less.
Before raiding Apple Daily’s HQ yesterday, the police once told the media that they would not search the news material and expected to end the search as soon as possible so that the media’s operation would not be interrupted. However, not only have the police expanded the cordoned area and searched for nearly nine hours, but they shooed the journalists in Editing and Reporting Department away from their seats, and the police even registered the HKID card, staff card, telephone number and address of the staff who returned to the office. Being treated like suspects have made our colleagues feeling humiliated and pressurized.
With the founder and senior staff being arrested, workplace being cordoned, and conducted a large-scale search, staff members being forced to register personal details – Apple Daily is facing the most severe crisis since it was founded 25 years ago. The solidarity shown by international society and Hong Kong citizens were obviously not enough to change the mind of the CCP and Hong Kong’s pro-CCP camp who have decided to strangle Apple Daily, to kill Hong Kong’s freedom of press and freedom of speech. Even when the democratic world increases the sanctioning actions towards them, they would just intensify the suppression and prosecution against Apple Daily, in the hope that they would succumb to the pressure and surrender or stop publishing.
However, the CCP and Hong Kong’s pro-CCP camp is going to be sorely disappointed. Hongkongers are gutsy. Our colleagues in different departments have received messages from readers, columnists, and freelance writers who all show their support to Apple Daily and encourage us. A reader wrote, “even if Apple Daily only publishes a bundle of blank sheets, we will be buying all of them.” An image indicating this sentiment with an Apple Daily logo even appeared in many media circles within WeChat. Furthermore, some investors and citizens have bought shares of Next Digital and become shareholders, to show they are not afraid of compulsory liquidation.
We are beyond touched by the words and actions of readers and writers. On this long road of truth-finding and justice-pursuing, we feel accompanied; In this current Hong Kong, under the darkest of the skies, and the coldest of the freezing grounds, there are glimmering moments and warm places. Having you with us together, Apple Daily shall fight on!
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