On February 1st, it was announced that Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and protestor of the mainland Chinese Communist Party, will stay in custody until a top court rules on his request for bail. Lai was arrested in August 2020 for violating China’s newly adopted national security law, which mainland China had put into effect just six weeks before. According to Reuters, Lai was placed in custody in December. A lower court granted him bail for 10.3 million HK dollars (1.3 million USD) on December 23rd, but the Court of Final Appeals brought him back on December 31st, citing Article 42 of the security law: “No bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
Lai is just one of the many pro-democracy critics Beijing, and its allied government in Hong Kong, have detained under the new national security law. The law has 66 articles and criminalizes acts of terrorism (violence or intimidation against people), subversion (undermining the power of the central government), secession (withdrawing from the country in any manner), and collusion with outside forces. China says the restrictions will return stability and structure after years of protesting and civil unrest. Its critics, however, point to the many arrests made in only a few months, arguing the law is “crushing dissent and [eroding] freedoms in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.”
The Chinese government had been targeting Lai for some time. In addition to being the founder of multiple companies, including Giordano (an Asian clothing company), NextMedia (a Hong Kong media company), and Apple Daily (a popular newspaper), Lai was one of the most outspoken leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. He received a Freedom of the Press award for openly denouncing China’s Communist Party in Apple Daily, earning condemnation from the Chinese government and multiple threats to his life. These threats ranged from axes and threatening messages in his driveway to having his car rammed and his house firebombed. Often, the Hong Kong Police, which has been Chinese-controlled since 1997, did not follow up on these occurrences. Culprits were never found.
Lai was previously arrested in 2014 as a leader of the sit-in protests under the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. A day later, he announced he would step down as head of NextMedia to focus on his personal life. This chain of events may be evidence that the government was silencing his opinions in some manner.
In the United States, if the government attempts to silence a citizen in this way, it would be unconstitutional. However, China has no such rules. It is frightening to see such an outspoken and powerful leader silenced, as it automatically silences so many others who are less powerful and are scared for their friends, their family, and themselves.
Only time will tell what will happen to Lai. But if he is kept in custody indefinitely, it will show how much the Communist Party has damaged China.
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