China’s Communist regime is scared — scared of its own people, scared of freedom and democracy, scared of a free press. And the regime is especially scared of the man who exemplifies all of those things: Jimmy Lai.
That’s why on Monday, Hong Kong police once again arrested the outspoken and defiant founder of Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper. This time, authorities arrested him under the new and ridiculously broad national-security law — for suspicion of “foreign collusion.” It’s trumped-up bosh.
Lai was arrested along with nine others, including his two sons, four senior Apple Daily staff and politician Agnes Chow Ting, who played a key role in Hong Kong’s democracy protests. He was released after midnight Tuesday, after 40 hours in detention, to loud chants of “Support Apple! Support till the end!” The others were released gradually, as well.
As for the “collusion,” Lai met last year with US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and members of Congress; he has long called on the West, and particularly the United States, to support Hong Kong’s embattled democracy.
Just because Lai and the others were released doesn’t mean the drama is over. Lai represents too big of a threat to the Communist regime. Just look at the way he was taken in: When he was arrested at his home in Ho Man Tin around 7 a.m. Monday, he was flanked by a phalanx of cops and handcuffed for hours.
This is a nonviolent, devoutly Catholic 71-year-old man.
He was then trotted around the offices of Apple Daily, where more than 200 police officers conducted a raid that lasted nine hours. The South China Morning Post also reported that he was taken in handcuffs to his moored yacht for a search.
Parading Lai around in handcuffs while conducting the searches was a special play by the police, a clear attempt to humiliate him. Except it didn’t work. Not one bit.
Examine the photos of his arrest or the live feed broadcast to Facebook by Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company, and you see a serene and dignified Lai. It’s the face of a man who has stared down Communist tyranny enough times to know that it is ultimately a hollow, morally bankrupt regime. He has been arrested before. He was detained in February for his role in a pro-democracy protest last year.
“I can’t be scared. If I’m scared, what can I do? I cannot say anything, I cannot do anything,” Lai told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation this month. “The most skillful thing that the [Chinese Communist Party] can do is to induce fear in you, to subdue you.”
And so Lai bravely refuses to be intimidated into submission.
Having left China as a 12-year-old and arrived in Hong Kong as a stowaway on a boat, Lai built a media empire before Beijing’s attempt to snuff out the territory’s rule-of-law system forced him to fight back politically.
“I’m prepared for prison,” Lai told the AFP in June, before the national-security law went into effect on June 30. “If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven’t read. The only thing I can do is be positive.” His faith sustains him, and he doesn’t want the attention to focus on him so much as the well-being of Hong Kong.
“Here’s what Jimmy would want you to focus on,” Mark Simon, Lai’s American right-hand man — an American citizen who also reportedly has a warrant out for his arrest in Hong Kong — tells me. “He’d want you to focus on the damage they’re doing to Hong Kong” and how “they’re crushing a free press. They’re not dealing with a guy who is thinking about the implications for himself.”
Rather, Simon says, Lai understands that a free press is what helps keep people safe. Liberty depends on the ability to call out and condemn abuses of power.
With the Communist government silencing dissidents in Hong Kong, it’s incumbent on the free world — you and me — to speak out on their behalf.