Lai's arrest a heavy blow to HK secessionism

By Chen Qingqing, Bai Yunyi and Cui Fandi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/10 23:03:40

Colluding with foreign forces will eventually be held accountable: observers

Hong Kong police lead Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, one of the most high-profile Hong Kong secessionists, away from his home after he was arrested on Monday under the new national security law for Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

About 40 days after the enactment of the highly anticipated national security law for Hong Kong, justice has finally been served as Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, one of the most high-profile local secessionists, was arrested by police on Monday. 

This has delivered a heavy blow to local rioting forces, who would eventually be held accountable no matter how hard they have been naively trying to ask for help from foreign forces to pressure the Chinese central government, observers said. 

The 71-year-old founder of Apple Daily, who is widely seen as a "modern traitor," was arrested on Monday morning for violating Article 29 of the national security law after the police searched his residence in Ho Man Tin, and Lai was later handcuffed and escorted by police officers. Sources close to the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) told the Global Times on Monday that Lai was charged for allegedly violating the law for colluding with foreign powers, fraud and sedition. 

It became one of the most prominent operations by the HKPF, as it was also the first time that such a high-profile Hong Kong riot supporter was arrested for violating the law

Along with Lai's arrest, at least 9 people have also been arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security as of 10:30 pm on Monday, while more arrests might be made, the police said. Two sons of Lai were detained in addition to four senior executives of Next Digital, the parent company of the newspaper - including an executive chairman and a chairman in charge of the outlet's operations and finances.

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China, May 18, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

The police also searched the headquarters of Next Digital on Monday. After an over four-hour search, the police took away about 25 boxes of materials for the investigation, Hong Kong media reported. 

Police also arrested local secessionist Agnes Chow for allegedly violating the national security law for Hong Kong, media reported on Monday night.

One of Lai's aides, Mark Simon, is currently abroad and wanted by police. Simon reportedly had stints with US naval intelligence and the CIA, sparking concerns over his role in helping Lai connect with foreign forces.

Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Monday that Simon undertakes the political and technical guidance work for Lai, or "might have been serving as a middleman in helping get US-related funds for the political movement in Hong Kong."

Lai's arrest shows the central government and the HKSAR government's firm determination to safeguard national security, prevent local forces from colluding with a foreign country or with external elements in order to seize control of the HKSAR administration, Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Monday. 

He noted that "those personnel, institutions and forces that some people thought could remain intact, would be disciplined by the law."

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China's State Council said it supports Hong Kong's arrest of Lai, saying that people colluding with a foreign country or with external elements to jeopardize national security in the city must be severely punished in accordance with the law. 

What's next? 

The arrests were aimed at the core management team of Apple Daily, which has played a critical role in instigating hatred, spreading rumors and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years. It has also played an active role in inciting anti-government riots as it is backed and funded by foreign forces to bring about a "color revolution" in the city, some observers said.

Two young anti-government figures, Andy Li, a member of a local organization called Hong Kong Story, and Wilson Li, a former member of Scholarism, were also arrested on Monday, who have been playing the role of advocacy for the end game of the so-called resistance, while constantly making a plea to foreign countries and organizations to meddle in Hong Kong affairs amid the social turmoil in 2019. 

Many Hong Kong residents are familiar with the Apple Daily's tactics in beautifying rioting activities and smearing law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong during months of anti-government protests since June 2019. For instance, in a headline story run by the newspaper on October 2, 2019, it portrayed law enforcement as a "brutal massacre" when rioters recklessly attacked police officers with a corrosive fluid. 

Hong Kong Photo:VCG

Even after the national security law for Hong Kong was enacted, the newspaper ran front page stories calling the disqualification of some anti-government lawmakers as a "crazy" move, which former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying slammed as not only a fight against China but also a lack of understanding of the country's situation. 

A large-scale operation on the newspaper that endangers public security and national security shows that Hong Kong law enforcement authorities have obtained sufficient evidence to make charges, Tian Feilong, a legal expert on Hong Kong affairs at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. 

The latest case involves two parts. One is its past behaviors before the enactment of national security law for Hong Kong, given the law being not retroactive, some could be charged in accordance to local regulations and ordinances. The other part is the actions after June 30, as Apple Daily had not given up defying the law despite it came into force, Tian noted.  

Lai had been arrested several times over the past year on suspicion of violating local regulations. But he had been also granted bail several times. Under the national security law for Hong Kong, some legal experts believe that won't be the case anymore. 

"Considering his infamous behavior, it's highly possible that Lai would face a severe sentence, and life imprisonment can't be ruled out," Tian said. 

While it's widely believed that the case being handled by the national security department of the HKPF and local judiciary authority which specializes in national security cases, some legal experts suggested that the central government's office for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and local committee for safeguarding national security chaired by chief executive Carrie Lam could step in when necessary, especially when it involves the interference of foreign forces, and requires the assistance of an international police organization that facilitates cross-border arrests of wanted people. 

'Give up fantasy'

The arrests came after the US announced sanctions on 11 Chinese mainland and Hong Kong officials involved in Hong Kong affairs, and as the Five Eyes allies continue to pressure the Chinese central government by slamming the postponement of the Legislative Council (LegCo) election due to the spike in coronavirus cases in Hong Kong. 

Though there is no direct connection between the arrests and the latest moves by Washington, tackling anti-China forces that meddle in Hong Kong and ending the political movement instigated by the US government are two matters Beijing's policymaking process should consider, Lau noted. 

"If the US further escalates its sanctions on Hong Kong, echoed by pro-American forces in Hong Kong, local law enforcement agencies will probably accelerate similar operations," he said. 

While some netizens praised the operation on Monday as "justice served," secessionist figures like Joshua Wong were unwilling to drop such fantasy that the so-called "stand with Hong Kong" would arouse sympathy from the global community, and that foreign politicians would "stand with them," some observers said. 

"They need to wake up now as Lai's arrest shows that no matter who you are, if you violate the national security law for Hong Kong, you can't escape  justice," Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the Standing Committee of the 13th NPC, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Hong Kong Photo:VCG

Wong is also among 12 candidates for Hong Kong's LegCo election, but who was disqualified for failing the requirements of the election. 

While the NPC Standing Committee is scheduled to decide on Tuesday on a series of issues, including whether LegCo candidates who have been disqualified from the election should be allowed to return to the council, and if it is necessary to establish a provisional LegCo, some legal experts noted that the disqualified lawmakers may still be able to serve in the provisional council, but only when they meet certain criteria, such as allegiance to the national security law for Hong Kong and the Basic Law. 

"Under the national security law for Hong Kong, the legal boundaries have become much clearer. Opposition groups should know how to adjust to a changing environment," Tian said. 

Some Western political figures like Chris Patten once again criticized the police operation on Monday, saying it's "the most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong's free press," while NGOs like Amnesty International called on the authorities "to drop charges and stop harassing journalists." 

Apple Daily is not an ordinary press critical of the government; it represents a certain kind of political power closely connected to foreign forces, and has prepared for an intensified political battle. It's also known for its hostile attitude toward the Communist Party of China, the Chinese central government and the HKSAR government, Lau noted. 

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