A senior adviser to Beijing has said that the police raid on the Apple Daily newsroom and arrest of its owner Jimmy Lai should be considered a result of its politics, as opposed to any kind of interference in the free press.

Jimmy Lai (centre) is arrested. Photo: Apple Daily.

Vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies Lau Siu-kai told state-run tabloid Global Times that the arrest of Lai indicated a significant change in Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong: “There were certain figures, organisations or forces that were considered as untouchable, but will – in the future – be subjected to the Hong Kong security law. The legal action is a stringent warning to those external forces against attempts to manipulate Hong Kong like a chess piece.”

Ten pro-democracy figures and members of the press were arrested on Monday – all facing charges under the new security legislation. In June, Beijing enacted laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviours in Hong Kong that it deemed a threat to national security. It was tabled in order to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism but democrats have warned such draconian laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

Lau Siu-kai. File Photo: CUHK.

Lau – an ex-adviser to the Hong Kong government – speculated that Beijing may speed up its crack down on such forces in view of further US sanctions, as the enforcement of the national security law would be considered ever-more necessary and urgent. Lau did not specify what “forces’ may be involved.

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai (first from right) leaves the Mong Kok police station on August 11, 2020. Photo: KH/United Social Press.

In another report in state-run newspaper Ta Kung Pao, he refuted the idea that Monday’s raid on Apple Daily was an affront to civil liberties. He claimed the “track record” of Lai and his media group should deem them an organisation with a distinguished political stance: “Next Media should not be considered a normal media organisation. It is not even as simple as a media group [that produces] unprofessional or biased reports.”

“The police operation at Next Media headquarters and their management-level offices involved documents and evidence of violations of the national security law. It is a case of the government enforcing the law at a political group, but it is not targeting a news organisation.”

Hong Kong Baptist University journalism lecturer Bruce Lui aired concerns over Lau’s comment. He cited state media coverage of Lai’s arrests and wrote in an analysis in Ming Pao that Beijing considered the case to be of top priority. He added that mainland China’s office for safeguarding national security may take over the case and it is possible that Lai may be tried in the mainland.

Journalists’ visa freeze

Meanwhile, local media reported last week that long-delayed work visas for foreign journalists are being processed by a newly founded national security unit within the Immigration Department. When approached by HKFP, the department did not comment – nor deny – the revelation.

In response, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong wrote an open letter to the Director of Immigration Au Ka-hang on Wednesday, urging him to clearly respond to the reports and detail criteria that are being considered during visa applications.

File photo: inmediahk.net

“We would also like your unequivocal assurance that this new procedure will not curtail the ability of journalists to report freely about Hong Kong and mainland China,” the letter read.

The club’s president Jodi Schneider asked Au why journalists were being singled out in terms of the months-long delays, and asked for clarification on whether a new security unit was vetting applications.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.