Hong Kong’s Last British Governor: Jimmy Lai Arrest ‘Most Outrageous Assault Yet’ on Hong Kong’s Free Press

Patten attacked the city's pro-independence movement on November 26 as the push for a split with China grows over fears of Beijing's tightening grip. / AFP / Anthony WALLACE (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, called the raid of the pro-democracy paper Apple Daily and the arrest of the paper’s founder Jimmy Lai the “most outrageous assault yet” on freedom of the press in the former Crown colony.

Over a hundred Hong Kong police raided the offices of Apple Daily on Monday morning, searching the desks of reporters and checking the identities of those entering the building in the Tseung Kwan O district of the city.

The raid followed the arrest of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, which owns the Apple Daily tabloid. Seven people in total were arrested, including Lai’s sons and top executives of the Hong Kong paper, according to the local news site the Hong Kong Free Press.

The local police force — now widely regarded as puppets of the regime in Beijing — said that Lai was arrested for allegedly “colluding” with foreign forces, which has been criminalised under the recently enacted draconian national security law. In 2019, Lai met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to warn the American leaders of the loss of freedom in the city.

Chris Patten, Lord of Barnes and the last British governor of Hong Kong before the handover to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1997, warned that the move against the pro-democracy paper signifies that Hong Knog is edging closer to becoming a communist police state.

“The arrests of Jimmy Lai, his sons, and his media colleagues, and the raid by more than 100 police officers of the headquarters of his media group, are a further major attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms and way of life,” Lord Patten said in a press release from the Britain-based charity Hong Kong Watch.

“This is the most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong’s free press. It will cause considerable anxiety to all who consider freedom of opinion and freedom of the press to be essential for Hong Kong’s survival as an international financial hub. The arrests will be regarded by a growing number of people as another large step towards turning Hong Kong into a replica of Beijing’s police state,” Patten warned.

Lord Alton of Liverpool described the arrest as “straight out of the Communist Party hand-book – a favourite ploy of Mao and Stalin – designed to terrorise and engender fear.”

“When a frightened regime has to crush the media, and even has to arrest participants in a candlelit vigil, it tells you all you need to know but history teaches us that such regimes ultimately die from their own poison.”

“Courageous people like Jimmy Lai, whom I have met, are the antidote to that poison. All over the world journalists and parliamentarians should be using their freedom to denounce this wrongful arrest and to tell the story of what Jimmy Lai’s arrest symbolises,” Lord Alton said.

The founder and chairman of Hong Kong Watch, Benedict Rogers, said: “The arrest of Jimmy Lai, his sons and colleagues is one of the most brazen assaults on basic freedom of expression and freedom of the press since the national security law was imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party on 1 July.”

“To arrest one of the most moderate, peaceful and internationally respected voices for democracy in Hong Kong – on charges of ‘collusion’ with foreign powers – sends the message that no one is safe in Hong Kong unless they stay completely silent and do exactly as Xi Jinping’s brutal regime says,” Rogers warned.

The Hong Kong Watch founder went on to say that the international community, including the United Kingdom and the United States, “cannot let this stand”.

“Unless the Chinese Communist Party regime steps back from the brink, it has put itself on a collision course with the free world,” Rogers said.

“In light of these arrests, I urge the United Kingdom and all democracies to follow the recent action by the United States and impose immediate targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, senior government and police officials and Chinese government officials, for flagrant violations of human rights and of an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

The raid on the Apple Daily building and the arrest of Jimmy Lai comes just days after the Trump administration announced targeted sanctions on Hong Kong and Beijing officials, including the Cheif Executive of the city Carrie Lam, for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy”.

The sanctions were a response to the imposition of the communist-backed national security law which criminalised the “subversion of state power”, terrorism, collusion with a foreign government, and calling for independence.

The law is widely seen as an attempt by the CCP to crush dissent and the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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