Hong Kong: international outrage over Jimmy Lai’s arrest

For the US, China has deprived the city of its traditional freedoms. London views the security law as a pretext to silence the democratic opposition. Criticism comes from the EU and the UN. Bipartisan condemnation greets the arrests in Taiwan, whilst Beijing welcomes them.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – International outrage is mounting over the arrest of pro-democracy magnate and Apple Daily newspaper owner Jimmy Lai.

The businessman was arrested yesterday along with nine other people, including two of his children, under the new security law imposed by Beijing.

Lai and the others are accused of “collusion with foreign forces" and "conspiracy to defraud”.

For US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Jimmy Lai's arrest shows that China has stripped Hong Kong of its traditional freedoms and undermined the rights of its citizens.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke of a real affront to all those who love freedom.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a well-known critic of Beijing, has asked for a response from the whole "free world" against Chinese repression.

Last Friday, the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions against Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, and ten other senior officials from Hong Kong and China, implicated in implementing Beijing's repressive policies to suppress freedom and the democratic process in the former British colony.

Beijing responded with counter-sanctions against 11 US citizens, including some members of Congress.

The British government also condemned Lai's arrest. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the security law was a pretext to silence the opposition.

London reminded Hong Kong authorities that the Sino-British Declaration of 1984, the Basic Law and the security legislation itself guarantee freedom of the media.

The UK has already announced that it will suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong and facilitate the acquisition of citizenship by many residents of its former colony.

Siding with the UK and the US, the European Union criticised Lai’s arrest, underlining that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is a cornerstone of the "one country, two systems" principle, on which Hong Kong’s broad autonomy is based.

Unlike the United States and Great Britain, the EU has not yet adopted punitive measures against China and the government of the semi-autonomous city.

The United Nations has also expressed concern over the detention of the city's pro-democracy leaders. The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has asked Hong Kong authorities not to use security provisions to violate human rights.

In Taiwan both ruling and opposition parties slammed Beijing's repressive move, seen as a violation of Hong Kong's freedoms.

The Taiwanese government called the arrests "arbitrary". Taiwan’s main opposition party, the pro-China nationalist Kuomintang, noted that the detention of pro-democracy activists undermines popular support for the Hong Kong government, reiterating its support for democracy and the rule of law in the city.

Beijing’s response to international criticism has been to praise the arrest of Lai and other pro-democracy figures.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said that all those who collude with foreign forces and endanger national security "must be severely punished". For Chinese leaders, Lai’s arrest shows that justice may be late but eventually takes its course.