The Chinese government propaganda outlet Global Times bizarrely defended the pro-communist Hong Kong government’s shutdown of the independent Apple Daily on Friday by claiming that the U.S. Constitution limited free speech in cases of “filth.”
Apple Daily is an anti-communist newspaper belonging to Next Digital, the corporation run by billionaire Jimmy Lai. Hong Kong authorities arrested Lai last year and charged him with violating the illegitimate “national security” law passed via Beijing, which carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. Lai is 72 years old. Under the technically still in vigor, “One Country, Two Systems” policy, laws passed in Beijing do not apply to Hong Kong, but Hong Kong authorities are enforcing them, anyway, following a wave of millions-strong protests against communism in the city in 2019.
Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers stormed the Apple Daily offices last week, arresting its editor-in-chief and several other senior staffers on charges of violating the “national security” law by consistently publishing content critical of the Communist Party of China and the local government of Hong Kong. Police also froze the newspaper’s financial assets, leading the newspaper to shut down in the city. Apple Daily published its last Hong Kong edition on Thursday; it will live on in its Taiwanese edition.
The Chinese Communist Party has openly celebrated the repression of Apple Daily‘s writers in the face of global condemnation. On Friday, the Global Times joined in that celebration by condemning the free states of the world and claiming that freedom of the press does not exist in places like America.
“There can be no freedom in the world against justice and the rule of law. Some Western politicians continue to infringe in the issue of Apple Daily, which exposes their double standards and their lack of understanding of reality and trends,” a column carried in the Global Times on Friday declared. The column’s byline reads “Zhong Sheng,” a pseudonym roughly translating to “voice of China” generally used by the official newspaper of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, to refer to an editorial written on behalf of “the people.”
“It is widely known that Hong Kong secessionist tabloid Apple Daily violated the law and people’s conscience,” the column claimed, disregarding that no one at Apple Daily has been convicted of a crime yet. “Its company and employees have been punished by the law, and its own operations had problems. Now the tabloid has been closed, which has been driven by justice, people’s hearts, and the market.”
Supporting “secession” is one of four new crimes created by the “national security” law, in addition to “terrorism,” “subversion of state power,” and “foreign interference.” Those arrested at Apple Daily stand charged with supporting secession and foreign interference through calls for human rights sanctions on the Chinese Communist Party.
“The rhetoric of the so-called press and speech freedom uttered by those Western politicians can never exempt the lawbreakers from legal punishment if they damage economic and social order and jeopardize China’s national security,” the state newspaper declared. “The law must be abided by and those violating the law must be punished.”
“Zhong Sheng” then went on to list alleged limitations on freedom of speech in Europe and the United States. Of America, the column claimed, “the U.S. Constitution forbids speech related to slandering, filth, intimidation and hatred.”
“The US government set up special organizations to monitor the local media. The US Federal Communications Commission is in charge of sending licenses to radio and TV stations and places restrictions on programs,” it continued. “The US High Court explicitly bans speech that advocates for violence or illegal acts or speech that incites or is likely to lead to violence or illegal actions.”
No court in the United States features the official title “High Court;” the Global Times appears to be referencing the Supreme Court.
The First Amendment of the American Constitution – the only part that addresses freedom of expression – reads in full:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The words “filth,” “intimidation,” “slandering,” and “hatred” do not appear in any part of the U.S. Constitution. Criminal prosecution for slander or any form of defamation is not impossible, but extremely rare in the United States. “Hatred” and “hate speech” are not defined in any part of American criminal law. The Global Times did not specify exactly what it meant by “filth,” but the Supreme Court has established a test for determining if content in question falls under the definition of “obscenity.” That test explicitly excludes any content deemed to reasonably have political value.
Rounding out its examples, the Global Times compared Apple Daily‘s anti-communist content to Holocaust denial, which is a crime in Germany.
“Which country or region could indulge in news and speech running wild without legal restraint?” the Chinese government newspaper asked.