American officials lead chorus of attacks on arrest of tycoon

Top News | Mandy Zheng, James Yu and Reut 12 Aug 2020

United States vice president Mike Pence has denounced the detention of Jimmy Lai, calling the move "deeply offensive and an affront to freedom-loving people."

Lai was among 10 people arrested on Monday for allegedly breaching the SAR's national security laws. The others included his two sons and four senior executives of Next Digital.

Pence yesterday recalled an encounter with Lai, saying: "I was inspired by his stand for democracy and the rights and autonomy that were promised to the people of Hong Kong by Beijing."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was deeply troubled by the arrest of Lai, who he described as "nothing more than a patriot who wanted good things" for Hong Kong.

Marco Rubio, a Republican senator among 11 Americans sanctioned by Beijing, said he expected more arrests and called for countries to "provide safe harbor to at-risk Hongkongers."

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Pompeo of "telling political lies," adding he "repeatedly made wrong comments on SAR issues and irresponsible remarks on China's lawful and legitimate acts to guard its safety."

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Beijing of using the security law as "a pretext to silence opposition."

A spokesman said: "Freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Basic Law and is supposed to be protected under Article Four of the National Security Law."

The Chinese embassy in London responded that Johnson's comments were "yet another act of interference in Hong Kong's judicial affairs."

It said those detained were "anti-China elements seeking to disrupt Hong Kong."

European Commission foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said the arrests further stoke fears that the security law is being used to stifle free speech in the SAR. And Beijing's foreign affairs office in Hong Kong condemned the Foreign Correspondents' Club for "smearing" the security law.

Siding with detainees could be seen as siding with forces sowing trouble in China and the SAR at large, it added. "The FCC Hong Kong knows very well that press freedom is fully cherished here. It should also be clear that there is no such thing as absolute press freedom above the law anywhere."

This came after the FCC labeled Monday's action as "a direct assault on Hong Kong's press freedom."

Kelly Yu, Sophie Hui and Michael Shum

In a rare scene in the digital age, people rushed to buy the print edition of yesterday's Apple Daily to show support for its arrested founder Jimmy Lai.

This came after police raided the pro-democracy newspaper's headquarters on Monday as well as the homes of Lai, his two sons and four senior executives of Next Digital, the paper's parent company.

Usually printing only 70,000 copies a day, Apple Daily initially decided to print 350,000 copies of yesterday's issue, then later increased it to 550,000.

As early as 2am, long queues were seen next to newspaper stalls in Mong Kok and the first batch of 190 copies sold out just 17 minutes after it arrived fresh from the press.

"We are not simply purchasing a copy of a newspaper, but our conscience," Ms Fung, who bought five copies, said.

Mr Ng, who bought 46 copies, said: "I am buying them in support of Apple Daily. Even if it is all blank papers, I cannot allow press freedom to be 'dead.' "

As people rushed to snatch their copies of the paper, stalls also stocked up more than usual.

An owner of a stall in Kwun Tong said: "There are more people buying Apple Daily today. I have sold 1,000 copies already and still have 1,000 copies left."

Retiree Lam, while buying two copies, said: "My whole family supports Apple Daily because they work so hard to report the truth for so many years. I hope Hongkongers will march forward and not give up."

Bacon Liu Sair-ching, chairman of the Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants, said the first print run was sold out overnight at stalls in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

Asked when was the last time newspapers sold out so fast, Liu said: "Probably the day they first published the newspaper, 25 years ago.

"Sometimes I am in a pickle when running a newspaper stall. I sell newspapers but I don't want it to sell too well because every time the newspaper is sold out, it means something important happened, which often is not a good thing."

Dozens also queued up outside Cafe Seasons in Central yesterday to show support for owner Ian Lai Yiu Yan - Lai's younger son who was also arrested.

Separately, Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong said the company has decided to apply for an interim injunction to ban police officers from reading any news materials seized from the newsroom.

"Because they [police] have taken away a lot of materials, some are believed to be news materials," Law said.

"They took away information including news reports."

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