Taipei, February 28, 2020–Authorities in Hong Kong should drop legal charges against Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Media, and stop harassing journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Hong Kong police arrested Lai at his home early today on suspicion of participating in illegal assembly and criminal intimidation, according to news reports. Lai is the founder of Next Media Limited, which owns the widely circulated pro-democracy Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted on the illegal assembly charge, according to a Hong Kong government database.
CPJ documented an assault by four unidentified men on an Apple Daily journalist whose personal information had been published by an anonymous website in September 2019, and Lai’s home was separately firebombed by two masked men the same month.
“This arrest is only the latest incident of harassment faced by Jimmy Lai, a critical pro-democracy voice from a prominent independent media house,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Hong Kong authorities should drop all legal proceedings against Lai and focus instead on finding individuals who have physically attacked Lai and other Apple Daily employees.”
Police accused Lai of participating in a prohibited pro-democracy march on August 31, 2019, and of criminal intimidation in relation to an incident on June 4, 2017, when Lai allegedly swore at a reporter from the rival Chinese-language Oriental Daily, according to news reports.
Lee Cheuk-yan, vice-chairman of the Labour Party, and Yeung Sum, former chairman of the Democracy Party, were also arrested on charges of participating in the illegal assembly on August 31. The trio were released on bail and formally charged at noon, according to news reports. According to Apple Daily, police confiscated Lai and Lee’s cellphones.
Lai was denounced by Beijing last summer, when he met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington at the height of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, according to news reports.
A Hong Kong police spokesperson told CPJ in an email that Lai, Lee, and Sum’s case will be heard in the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on May 5, and that police strongly condemn “extreme protest activities.”