Hong Kong residents lined up outside of convenience stores Tuesday to buy copies of Apple Daily, the city’s most prominent anti-communist newspaper, after a mob of over 200 police officers stormed its headquarters and arrested owner Jimmy Lai on charges of endangering national security.
Lai was among ten others arrested during the raid, facing a minimum of ten years in prison for owning a newspaper that, among other stances, vocally supports the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement and has encouraged sanctions on the Chinese communist regime for violating the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. At 72 years old, the minimum sentence for Lai could mean life in prison.
The “national security” law under which Lai was charged passed not through the Hong Kong Legislative Council, but through Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) in May — a violation of “One Country, Two Systems.” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has argued that the law is legitimate because anything labeled “national security” falls under the powers of the sovereign, not the local government, a claim thousands of protesters have rejected.
The police raid on Apple Daily, rather than encourage popular outrage against the publication, triggered a boom in newspaper sales and skyrocketing stock value for Next Media, its parent company. According to the newspaper itself, it typically prints 70,000 copies the night before, but printed 350,000 copies anticipating greater demand. That number was not enough and workers eventually printed another 200,000 copies, resulting in a 686 percent increase in production. The initial print had sold out by 8 a.m. local time.
Tuesday’s edition carried a photo of Lai under arrest with the headline “Apple Daily Shall Fight On,” the title of an editorial letter the staff published after the raid vowing they would continue challenging the communist regime.
“Raiding a news institution is a severe attack on press freedom and should not be tolerated in a civilized society. The regime believes that we will be silenced by intimidation and harassment, and that they can take an international city down the path of autocracy,” the statement read. “Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread, but our staff will remain fully committed to our duty to defend the freedom of the press.”
Other local outlets corroborated Apple Daily‘s reports of long lines at newspaper racks to purchase their product. In some instances, pro-democracy Hongkongers bought out entire racks of the newspaper and left them in a public place as free gifts to other supporters, ensuring to leave a note with the receipt to confirm that Apple Daily had profited from those copies.
“According to local media, dozens of people queued to buy piles of copies to show solidarity with the tabloid. One vendor told reporters that he sold more than 200 copies within 30 minutes,” the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) noted. “Many of those in the queue bought more than one copy. At several convenience stores across the city, stacks of Apple Daily were found attached with a piece of paper that read: ‘Paid. Welcome to take one and read.'”
The first batch of Tuesday's @appledaily_hk – with a photo of Lai in police custody and a headline reading "Apple will stride on" – arrived at a newspaper stand in Mong Kok at around 2 am. https://t.co/p3KdNXQ7yM pic.twitter.com/wzLEx1RlTK
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@HongKongFP) August 11, 2020
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) August 11, 2020
It's 2am in #Hongkong. There is a long line of people queuing up for the first batch of @appledaily_hk in Mongkok. We are livestreaming, and 6500 people are watching. I guess no one is getting much sleep tonight. pic.twitter.com/xdfnxdcvLg
— Alex Lam 林偉聰 (@lwcalex) August 10, 2020
The newspaper’s sales success occurred despite documented attempts at sabotage by at least one individual later identified as a pro-communist activist. A video circulated Tuesday showing a man stuffing a trash can with copies of Apple Daily. The person who filmed the video confronted the man for throwing away the newspaper in an attempt to ensure that fewer people read it.
How petty do Pro-Bejingers have to be?
This Pro-Bejinger decided to childishly buy up @appledaily_hk newspapers & chucked them in the bin
Source: Instagram pic.twitter.com/HWT9kTeiQ8
— Hong Kong – Be Water (@BeWaterHKG) August 11, 2020
The Asian outlet Coconuts reported the identity of the man to be the head of Politihk Social Strategic, a pro-communist group, named Innes Tang. Tang has ties to one of Hong Kong’s most hated pro-communist leaders, former lawmaker Junius Ho, most prominently known for chatting friendly with armed thugs who attacked peaceful protesters and passersby following a protest a year ago.
While Tang disposed of the newspapers, he seems to have purchased them, meaning he contributed financially to Apple Daily‘s operations.
Stock in Next Digital Limited, the official name of Apple Daily‘s parent company, also surged to record highs after the raid on Monday. According to the HKFP, the stock reached a high of 344 percent more than its value on Monday morning but closed Monday evening at an 183-percent rise in price.
The outpouring of support for the newspaper triggered a feeble attempt on the part of Chinese state media to depict Lai as widely hated by his countrymen.
“Lai is not even accepted by Hong Kong residents, who only see him as a ‘modern traitor’ rather than a ‘freedom fighter,'” the Communist Party publication Global Times claimed on Tuesday, citing pro-Beijing politicians.
“Lai, who is usually called ‘fat Lai’ or ‘Marijuana Lai,’ has an infamous reputation among ordinary Hong Kong residents, who remember the 71-year-old riot supporter as the most aggressive anti-China figure who instigated violent protests, short bought Hong Kong stocks ahead of the anti-government movement in 2014, colluded with foreign politicians and even made a plea for reckless interference from foreign countries in Hong Kong’s affairs,” the Global Times claimed.
Searches conducted by Breitbart News did not turn up any meaningful results for the names “fat Lai” or “Marijuana Lai,” indicating that these are not common pseudonyms for the media mogul. Pro-China thugs did refer to a “fat Lai” during a violent assault of an Apple Daily reporter in September 2019.