Pro-democracy Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested on Friday for participating in an “unauthorized assembly” in August.
Lai’s arrest was greeted with international outrage and interpreted as a dark omen for the future of freedom in Hong Kong. Chinese state media countered with a tornado of propaganda that portrayed Lai as a monstrous symbol of lawlessness whose arrest was a vital step toward subduing the long-running protest movement.
China’s Global Times on Friday called Lai a “criminal,” “traitor,” and “a force of evil, not a ‘hero’ for democracy,” accusing Western politicians of “manufactured outrage” for defending him:
First, let’s take a look at why he and his two peers were arrested. According to the Hong Kong Police Force, the trio was arrested for “criminal intimidation” in June 2017 and again for illegal assembly in August 2019.
The intimidation case involved an incident during a protest, during which Lai approached a reporter for the Oriental Daily newspaper, pointed his finger and issued a profanity-laden threat. “I will definitely deal with you. I am telling you now that I have already taken a picture of you! [Expletive] your mother!” Lai said to the reporter.
Does that sound like something a “hero” for democracy would say or do? Set aside the startling profanity. This is someone who has been described as a voice of the free press and free speech, trying to shut down a reporter who was just doing his job and exercising his rights as a journalist. Doesn’t that reporter have freedom-of-press rights? Is Lai’s own Apple Daily entitled to those rights? Needless to say he broke the law by threatening an individual. That is illegal in Hong Kong, as it is almost anywhere in the world. It is beyond our imagination how someone like that could be hailed as a hero for democracy.
The rest of the world has very different standards for whether Lai’s alleged words to the Oriental Daily reporter would be a prosecutable offense, and most of the civilized world wouldn’t wait three years before abruptly deciding to prosecute him for it.
As for the illegal assembly charge, the Global Times sneered that a real “hero” or “leader” would have told the demonstrators to go home instead of joining in. The paper accused Lai of joining the August 2019 protest just long enough to incite violence and then leaving the scene in a “hurry” to “avoid the consequences of his actions.”
The real reasons Lai got arrested came bubbling out at the end of the Global Times editorial, including a reference to the American Left’s “Russia collusion” hoax – which, now that they mention it, was quite a bit like the kind of “scandal” the Chinese Communist Party likes to whip up when it decides to take down a political enemy:
Lai’s sins go beyond his troubles with the law. He has been arrested before; he has frequently colluded with US officials in high-profile meetings; and he has openly solicited interference in China’s internal affairs related to Hong Kong. Are these not the actions of a traitor? To put it into terms many in the West can understand: US President Donald Trump was investigated for nearly two years due to his suspected collusion with Russia, and several senior US officials and other individuals have since been charged or convicted. Some were involved in private meetings with Russian officials or other individuals. Lai does not hide his meetings – quite the opposite, he advertises them.
If the irony is still not apparent to some, then it is fair to say that they cannot be convinced. The most important thing is that when Lai is put behind bars, and as his friends in the West continue their hysteria, people across China – including those in Hong Kong – will be cheering and relieved that long-overdue justice is finally served.
Another Global Times piece on Friday stressed the warning message China wants to send to Hong Kong protesters that they should never feel safe, even if years pass before their indictments are written:
“These arrests show that their political activities are illegal and will eventually face legal trials. There is no justification for violating the law,” Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.
The police took action half a year ago after the illegal assembly, also suggesting the police obtained sufficient evidence and the chance of conviction is very high, Tang noted. “However, uncertainties remain, as in the past lenient sentences were given for unlawful assembly,” he said.
During the months of protests that turned into riots, which heavily weighed on Hong Kong’s social stability, anti-government figures were seen as typical examples of modern traitors, as these so-called “democratic” leaders have had unprecedented levels of contact with the US government and Western parliaments, forming increasingly brazen collusion tactics that have fueled the expansion of street politics in Hong Kong, observers said.
The Communist Party’s favored narrative of the Hong Kong protests as a bit of foreign sabotage orchestrated by the United States was lurking later in the article:
It is an open secret in Hong Kong that the forces protesting the extradition bill have been sponsored by the US. The activist Lai was exposed by WikiLeaks to be closely related to US intelligence personnel, according to media reports. During protests against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, Lai had high-level meetings with senior US officials including US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. The media mogul also attended major illegal assemblies and fueled street violence, speaking to foreign media in order to smear Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s government and the central government.
One thing that both the Communist Party and critics of Lai’s arrest agree on is that his indictment is a watershed moment in the protest movement, a necessary step toward shutting it down for good.
The Global Times quoted a Beijing professor who said Lai’s arrest and prosecution would help Hong Kong’s Beijing-controlled government to “exercise its autonomous right to end the chaos and resume the rule of law and order so that society can engage in rational dialogue and return to stability.”