Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai has blasted Chief Executive Carrie Lam as “evil” over plans to amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws. The media mogul’s Q&A at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central came shortly before the government announced its decision to fast-track the bill at the legislature.

Lai said the controversial bill poses a grave threat to freedoms in the city, adding: “I think the former Chief Executive (CY Leung) looks like an angel compared to Carrie Lam now. I never thought Carrie Lam could be so evil.”

Jimmy Lai.

“When you’re dealing with the devil it is always wrong,” Lai added. “It is China… they are shameless in backtracking on all their promises. They have no sense of law.”

Hong Kong proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan. The plan would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight, though lawyersjournalistsforeign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to mainland China.

Secretary for Security John Lee announced the same day that the government would bypass the usual committee-level scrutiny and table the bill at the legislature’s main chamber. It came after weeks of clashes between rival lawmakers stymied efforts to vet the legal amendments. Pro-establishment lawmakers and pan-democrats have been paralysed by a deadlock over who the legitimate bills committee chairperson may be, with physical fights breaking out as both camps jostled for control over the meeting.

‘Massacre’ of freedom

Lai said the impending extradition amendments sound the death knell for Hong Kong’s freedoms: “It is the last straw on the back of the camel of our One Country Two Systems,” he said. “In one swoop it finishes Hong Kong. It is a massacre of our freedom, of our legal system, of the free press – everything.”

Jimmy Lai. Photo: FCC screenshot, via Facebook Live.

Lai is the founder and chairperson of Hong Kong-listed media company Next Digital, which publishes the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily. When asked whether he would emigrate from Hong Kong over the threat posed by the bill, he said: “I cannot leave. I’m the head of the opposition media. The captain can’t jump ship.”

“Maybe we will never win. Maybe we will just sink with the ship. But we must fight while sinking,” he said.

The tycoon expressed concern over declining press freedom in the city, saying that self-censorship is rife among most local media outlets and international titles should leave the city now.

Lai ruled out the possibility of having an English language edition of Apple Daily to expand its international readership: “It cannot survive,” he said, adding that the demand can be met by international media that are not beholden to the Chinese government.

He also thanked CY Leung for giving prominence to Apple Daily. The former chief executive has been naming-and-shaming companies who advertise in the local newspaper since March.

The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.