Dissident Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, arrested Monday under the oppressive “national security law” imposed by Beijing, emerged from detention Wednesday undaunted but “more cautious,” to quote the advice he gave to young pro-democracy demonstrators.
Lai, owner of the Apple Daily newspaper, dove right back into his weekly live chat program:
— Apple Daily HK 蘋果日報 (@appledaily_hk) August 13, 2020
I'm going LIVE tonight with the great pro-democracy hero Jimmy Lai!
China’s government had him thrown into prison. He was released temporarily and will, as usual, be speaking his mind—while he can.
Join us tonight at 9:00 PM EST (9 AM Hong Kong). https://t.co/uzWmjR9Yde
— Mike Gonzalez (@Gundisalvus) August 12, 2020
Lai told the BBC that his arrest was “just the beginning” of the “long fight” for freedom in Hong Kong. He said the experience was “more scary” than previous harassment by the Hong Kong authorities because the Chinese security law made his fate, and that of his family, more uncertain.
“When I was in custody, I could not sleep,” he said. “I was thinking, if I knew what was going to happen to me know, even more hardship, would I have done the same thing?”
Lai told the BBC he found the answer to that question and came through the experience more determined than ever, concluding he would not have done things any other way because “this is my character,” but he also realized Hong Kong’s dissidents must be “more cautious in our resistance to preserve our rule of law and freedom.”
“We have to be more careful and creative in resistance,” he said. “We can’t be as radical as before, especially young people, because the more radical, the shorter the lifespan we have in our fighting. We have to really use our brain and patience, because this is a long fight.”
The New York Times on Wednesday found a similar spirit of dauntless, but more cautious resistance at Apple Daily, where editors told reporters they had to decide for themselves if they wanted to risk coming to work, and most of them did. They even vowed to complete projects they were working on and get them published somehow even if the paper’s finances were frozen by the government.
“We have a culture of instinctively wanting to go and help the company when it is in trouble. The attitude now is one of meeting challenges together,” investigative reporter and union spokesman Alex Lam said.
Some Apple Daily employees worried that the state will find an excuse to shut them down now that they have become a prime symbol of resistance, with circulation increasing by 500 percent and defiant Hongkongers posting photos of themselves holding the publication aloft like a battle flag.
Lai said in his livestream that he was surprised he was arrested so quickly, given the negative attention focused on China after the Hong Kong security law was imposed.
“I thought they would keep a low profile to make sure the international community was comfortable with it, the investors, the businessmen … that the national security law had calmed everything down and we hadn’t done anything,” he said.
“Maybe the top ranks and lower ranks don’t coordinate. It only shows me that maybe the regime is in great disorder because they don’t coordinate,” he speculated.
Lai revealed that although he feared he would be whisked off to China and made to disappear, the police who arrested him all seemed to be Hongkongers.
As of this moment, I rest assured I won’t be taken to China,” he said, although he was aware that if he was deemed “subversive” enough, his case could be remanded to the Beijing-controlled national security bureau and extradition to China would be back on the table.
“Once I accepted my destiny, all of a sudden, I felt the grace of God, the blessing of God, and I was totally relieved. And I left myself to my destiny and accepted it,” Lai, a Catholic, said of his ordeal.
“It was such a wonderful feeling,” he said. “It was like God telling me, ‘Don’t fear, just do what you have to do, I’m with you.’”
Lai said he was overjoyed by the support he has received since his arrest.
“I was so touched. This has reaffirmed that whatever I’ve done wrong in the past, what I’m doing now is right. The message is: ‘Let’s go on!’” he said.
“The oxygen is getting thin, we’re all choking,” he said, comparing freedom to the very air people breathe. “We’re still taking care of each other and we keep resisting and fighting for the rule of law and freedoms.”
“I am in my 70s and there was never a time when I felt so moved and so happy, knowing that I’ve been doing the right thing. I’m near the end of my life, it’s a very precious feeling,” said Lai, who was moved to tears a few times during the livestream.
“The Communist Party has made a great mistake by arresting you,” Gonzalez told Lai.
“What makes Hong Kong so attractive as a financial center is the freedom of the press. You cannot be a financial center without the ability to communicate,” Gonzalez pointed out.