Shares of Next Digital, the media company that owns Hong Kong’s dissident newspaper Apple Daily, skyrocketed after the arrest of founder Jimmy Lai on Monday.
Analysts saw the surge in price as a show of support for Lai, with some stock buyers explicitly stating they made huge purchases of Next Digital as gestures of defiance against the Hong Kong administration and its masters in Beijing.
Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) noted Next Digital stock initially took a dive after Lai’s arrest, bottoming out at a 17 percent loss when footage of Hong Kong police marching into Next Media’s offices filled television screens.
“But things took a dramatic U-turn in the second session as the shares soared 344 percent and analysts said the surge was fuelled by pro-democracy activists urging investors on social media to pile into the market to support the firm,” RTHK reported. Hong Kong stocks generally fell while Next Digital’s price was rising.
Several stock buyers posted messages online indicating they bought Next Digital shares to show their support for Lai and Apple Daily, which one investor praised as “the last mainstream media that has been striving to oppose the Communist Party.”
Supporters without the financial means to buy company stock pledged to keep buying copies of Apple Daily, even if the paper is shut down under the national security law and they must purchase piles of blank paper as symbolic support.
RTHK noted that some analysts believe investors bought Next Digital for essentially the opposite reason: they think “the worst is over” after Lai’s arrest and the company will become tamer under new leadership.
Another highly visible show of support for Lai reported by RTHK was the throng of customers appearing at Cafe Seasons on Tuesday. The cafe is owned by Ian Lai, son of Jimmy Lai, who was also arrested on Monday alongside his father and his brother Timothy.
Many of the customers gathered outside the cafe (which was only seating at half capacity due to coronavirus restrictions) said they were voting with their stomachs to show support for the Lai family and demonstrate their defiance:
“I think the number of people buying lunch at Cafe Seasons is somehow a poll which reflects our opinions, Hong Kong people’s opinion,” said Chan, a woman in her 30s who said she works in the area.
“As you can see, the queue is so long that people have to wait for more than half an hour. It’s a poll, in which people cast their votes for freedom.”
“Hong Kong people will never give up. We will use all possible ways to express our views,” Chan said, “I will buy Apple Daily and have lunch at Cafe Seasons every day to show my support.”
“It’s a symbolic support coming here to buy our meals,” another woman surnamed Leung said. “I feel so happy seeing this.”
Apple Daily reportedly sold out at many venues on Tuesday, even after increasing its print run from 70,000 to an astonishing 550,000 copies. The front page of the Tuesday edition featured a photo of Jimmy Lai’s arrest under the headline “Apple Daily Must Maintain Its Operations” and a statement condemning the arrests.
“Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread. The staff of Apple Daily will stay fearless and continue speaking the truth amid persecution,” the editorial vowed.
Jimmy Lai, 72, was arrested under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party in June. Hundreds of police officers swarmed the offices of Apple Daily on Monday, making nine arrests. Lai and his sons were charged with “conspiring with a foreign country or institution” to subvert the government of Hong Kong, an extremely flexible new charge that critics of the Chinese security law correctly feared would be employed to silence all dissent.
Lai’s sons, 39-year-old Ian and 42-year-old Timothy, were released on bail after being detained for about 30 hours. Timothy and Jimmy Lai are reportedly facing some sort of fraud charge in addition to their persecution as subversives under the national security law. Jimmy Lai himself was finally released on bail late Tuesday night, greeted by a throng of cheering supporters waving copies of Apple Daily.
Arrested alongside the Lais was 23-year-old pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, similarly charged with “inciting secession” and “colluding with foreign forces on social media.”
Chow enjoyed vigorous support during her detention from Japanese media, lawmakers, and social media users, who made such a fuss that China might have worried about the diplomatic ramifications of railroading Chow and decided to let her make bail.
Chow is telegenic and speaks Japanese fluently, making her a popular representative of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement there. Admirers have lionized her as the living incarnation of the Goddess of Democracy statue from Tiananmen Square and the second coming of Chinese folk hero Hua Mulan — both characterizations guaranteed to annoy Chinese Communists.
The idea of Agnes Chow as the true Mulan is showing up in all sorts of ways (in varied languages and Tweets from varied places) on the Internet (see this image pic.twitter.com/JgY3TX6Vz4 ); the latest in a string of fascinating Hong Kong meets Hollywood protest angles https://t.co/FfvIac9Wx4
— Jeff Wasserstrom (@jwassers) August 11, 2020
“It is political persecution and political suppression. I still don’t understand why I am arrested,” Chow told reporters after she was released.
“The political suppression is not only on me, but many Hong Kong people and activists,” she added.