In the latest move to suppress Hong Kong’s legal freedoms, officials in the region loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have hinted at targeting the media under the guise of combating “fake news” as part of an effort to silence dissent against the city’s CCP-betrothed, pro-establishment government.
As reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA) earlier in April, an announcement by Hong Kong’s Police Chief, Chris Tang, suggested a policy combating “fake news” that stirs up public sentiment against the ruling government. Tang made the statement, “We will definitely arrest, investigate and prosecute anyone who tries to endanger Hong Kong’s security through fake news,” before the City’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
The announcement was followed by an opinion piece published in Hong Kong pro-establishment, Communist Party-controlled newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, that bolstered Tang’s statement by accusing the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper of “collusion with foreign forces and incitement.”
According to a 2016 RFA article, Ta Kung Pao merged with Wen Wei Po to form one entity under the oversight of “propaganda officials at Beijing’s central government liaison office in Hong Kong.” The article also states that Chairman Jiang Zaizhong would remain in control of the paper and is “a veteran journalist who came from a leadership role at China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.”
Apple Daily isn’t the only pro-democracy publication in HK feeling the pressure in the worsening political environment. The Epoch Times printing press in Hong Kong was recently attacked by four masked men wielding sledgehammers who inflicted damage to computers and printing equipment.
The men fled the scene and have not yet been apprehended. The Epoch Times’ press had been attacked on four other prior occasions. The last assault was in November of 2019 when men, dressed as protesters, set fire to the publication’s printing equipment in an arson attack. The Epoch Times has maintained a critical stance on the CCP since its founding by Falun Gong practitioners in 2000, making the publication a target to those wanting to silence critics of the current pro-communist authorities.
Jimmy Lai, the billionaire founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, is a fierce democracy advocate and critic of the CCP. He fled to Hong Kong from Guangzhou, China, in his youth and built his life up from poverty to success as a businessman. Although he could have left Hong Kong behind when the City came under pressure from the CCP’s weight bearing down on its democratic values, Lai chose to stay.
In a message written from his jail cell to the Apple Daily, he wrote, “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
On April 16, Jimmy Lai was sentenced to a 14-month prison term for participating in two protests in 2019. The same day, lawyers Martin Lee, Hong Kong’s father of democracy, and Margaret Ng, former lawmaker, were also handed sentences for their roles in organizing a protest on August 18, 2019.
Hong Kong Bar Chairman, Paul Harris, has been criticized for speaking in support of the activists and politicians who were handed sentences earlier this month for their participation in the demonstrations in 2019 against the then-proposed National Security Law (NSL).
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam labeled Harris as an “anti-China politician” for his stance on the legality of demonstrations as a means of expression for Hong Kong people. A representative from the CCP’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong has questioned Harris’ position as Bar Chairman under the condition of the new “patriots governing Hong Kong” resolution that ensures candidates for office attest their loyalty to the central government before taking office.
Despite Harris’s position on the sentencing of pro-democracy activists that organized the August 18, 2019 demonstration against the NSL, the Bar Association has nonetheless decided to review the convictions against Martin Lee and Margaret Ng in a move that could result in sanctions such as censuring, suspension of license, and fines. The review results from pressure from pro-establishment group Politihk Social Strategic, who petitioned for a probe against sentenced lawyers Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, and Albert Ho.
At her sentencing, Margaret Ng stated, “Your honour, [. . .] My generation were embroiled in finding a way to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms and original way of life after the change of sovereignty. This was so important to all of us that, after I was called to the bar, I did not immediately start to practise, but took up an editorial post in the Ming Pao Daily News, because I accepted that it was critical to Hong Kong’s future to have a strong free press [. . .].”
Later she paraphrased Sir Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers, stating, “I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first. For the law must serve the people, not the people the law.”