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Monday, October 3, 2022

Jimmy Lai, the HK media mogul arrested under a controversial security law, is released on bail.

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Jimmy Lai, owner of the largest listed media company in Hongkong and perhaps more known as the founder of the clothing brand Giordano, was arrested under the new national security law and charged with “colluding” with foreign forces. He is released after 40 hours of detention and paying bail, which was set at HK$300000 (US$38461), plus a HK$200000 surety, but with no passport, no details of his charges or court date.

There were nine detained by police, two are Jimmy Lai’s sons, in a dramatic day of arrests on Monday last week in the most high-profile police operation under the new draconian security law since it was imposed by Beijing, six others were linked to the tabloid-style Apple Daily for foreign collusion or alleged conspiracy to defraud. Student activist Agnes Chow Ting and two others accused of the same crime were arrested in another operation on that same day.

When the 72-year-old clothing entrepreneur turned media mogul was arrested, the Hong Kong government dispatched more than 200 police officers to haul him in for the booking and to gather evidence in his media empire headquarters. People outside of Hong Kong would think it’s overkill, but Jimmy Lai is not your average tycoon, the self-made billionaire has been an outspoken proponent of democratic reforms and critic of China’s Communist Party for more than 30 years. The Communist Party of China regards Mr. Lai as a prime nemesis in Hong Kong. The tycoon has frustrated the regime that it launched vilification campaigns calling him a traitor and an American Puppet.

While most of the territories tycoon would do Beijing’s bidding, Jimmy Lai would be defiant and determined to keep fighting for a democratic Hong Kong. The Apple Daily was founded in the mid-1990s when Lai was appalled by the brutal massacre in Tiananmen Square and fear it would happen in Hong Kong too upon its turnover from Great Britain to China in 1997. The tabloid becomes his weapon to preserve democracy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kongers pushed back on the perceived intimidation to an icon of the pro-democracy movement in the territory and have rallied behind the newspaper, businesses placed advertisements and traders bought his company’s “junk” stock, pushing its price up. The stock closed on Tuesday at HK$1.10, up from its close of HK$0.255 just 24 hours before, a twelve-year high, and rising more than eleven hundred percent last week. Online subscriptions of Next Media were reportedly up 20,000 last week and 550,000 copies of Apple Daily were printed the day after Jimmy Lai’s arrest, eight times the usual number. Democracy supporters bought copies for free distribution, with handwritten notes urging others to take them.

Beijing wanted to make an example of Lai, “kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” as the Chinese saying goes, but it backfired. The arrest of the publisher reinvigorated the unapologetic defiance among workers at Apple Daily and democracy activists. In one of the interviews of Jimmy Lai after his arrest, he said that the promised full democracy they’ve been seeking for years is “impossible” now but they will keep fighting anyway.

Although Lai believes that Beijing won’t insist on a trial in the mainland, and says his case will likely be a “litmus test” if Hong Kong’s legal system is still fair, but “Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily may just be the beginning,” says Geremie Barme, the Australian Chinese scholar who called the use of the new security law to stifle press freedom [PxxxT] an autocrat’s tactic of repression designed to legitimize the ruler rather than protect its citizenry.

“Without fighting, we don’t have hope. We don’t know when we’ll win, but we’re so sure we’re on the right side of history, and time is on our side,” – Jimmy Lai

“Contrary to what they might think, I don’t hate the Party,” says Lai in his interview with the New Yorker. “What China wants in Hong Kong is a capitalistic city without the concept of politics; what China wants in its citizens is a body that responds reflexively to fear,” Fear might be the Communist Party’s most powerful weapon, but it’s also the Party’s only weapon, unfortunately, Jimmy Lai doesn’t fear them.

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