Unexpected arrests . . .
Jimmy Lai, a prominent businessman and owner of Next Media, a media group that publishes the popular paper Apple Daily, was arrested and charged by the Hong Kong police on Friday along with Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, two veteran democracy activists. All three were arrested over their alleged role in an “unauthorized assembly” last August, where protesters clashed with riot police despite a ban on marches. Lai was also charged with “criminal intimidation” of a pro-Beijing publication’s reporter during a Tiananmen vigil in 2017.
Accusations of political motivation . . .
Widely noted as one of the few outspoken critics of Beijing among the Hong Kong elite, Lai is a major financial patron of the pro-democracy movement, and his Apple Daily is among the most popular newspapers in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Civil Human Rights Front, Hong Kong’s preeminent pan-democratic organization, has criticized the police arrests as excessive and politically motivated. Some observers in Hong Kong see the arrests as a signal that the government is determined to exert revenge on influential figures in the pan-democratic camp, even as protests continue to dwindle.
Concerns over rule of law . . .
Lai, Lee, and Yeung’s arrests came amidst swirling concerns over China’s handling of human rights and the rule of law. Earlier in the week, Gui Minhai, a bookseller from Hong Kong who holds Swedish citizenship, was charged with illegal provision of intelligence overseas and sentenced to 10 years by a Chinese court. Gui’s entanglement with the Chinese government began in 2015, when he was arrested in China after disappearing – some suspect kidnapped – while in Thailand, and later appeared on China’s state television in a ‘confessional’ video. In delivering the verdict, the court insisted that Gui was a Chinese national, claiming that he renounced his Swedish citizenship while in custody – a claim that is contested by Sweden’s foreign ministry. In addition to sparking condemnations from human rights groups, experts say that Gui’s sentencing may set a dangerous precedent for other foreign detainees in China such as Canadians Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, whose consular access rights may be denied if they are made to renounce their citizenship and become Chinese citizens.