Jimmy Lai has said he was surprised to be arrested so quickly and suggested that there was “major disorder” among Chinese and Hong Kong authorities on how to deal with the territory’s national security legislation.
The 71-year-old media tycoon and prominent pro-democracy figure was arrested on Monday on suspicion of committing foreign collaborations in breach of Beijing̵
Nine others were also arrested, including his two sons and four senior executives at his company Next Digital Media, the publisher of Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s largest daily newspaper. Agnes Chow, a young pro-democracy activist on charges of foreign cooperation, was also arrested separately.
In his weekly livestream from the Apple Daily, Lai said on Thursday that he had expected to be arrested under the laws, which came into force on June 30, but was surprised that it had happened so quickly while the world’s attention was still on Hong Kong.
“I thought that China, with such a strong response from the international community … in the implementation of the National Security Act, I thought they would keep a low profile to ensure that the international community was comfortable with it, investors, businessmen. … that the national security law had calmed everything and that we had not done anything, he said.
“But maybe the top ranks and lower rankings do not coordinate. It just shows me that the regime may be in great disarray because they are not coordinating. “
When the law was introduced, the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing determined that it would be used to target only a small minority and would not affect people’s lives and freedoms. They have also found it difficult to assure the foreign business community that there was no need to leave the international financial hub.
Since its implementation, about 30 people have been arrested for crimes, including a flag of independence, and schools and libraries have been told to remove “subversive” texts from the shelves. Pro-democracy politicians have been disqualified from elections and media organizations have conducted interviews with dissidents.
The Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, Ming Pao, reported on Thursday the public broadcaster, RTHK had removed a recorded discussion that included Nathan Law, a former legislator and activist who has since fled to the UK and who is reportedly wanted by the police during the National Security Act.
Lai also said he was less afraid of being transferred to the mainland, which has jurisdiction over the more serious crimes, because the entire arrest team was Hong Kongers and did not speak a mainland language, he said.
The new police force set up under national security law is shrouded in secrecy, but Lai said he did not believe he encountered anyone from China.
“They were all the police in Hong Kong. Maybe the force takes orders from China, I do not know, but it seems like the whole team is a Hong Kong team so I do not think they intend to take me or anyone to China, he says.
“Maybe if they decided I’ve done something really subversive … but from this moment on, I can be sure I’ll not be taken to China.”
Recent comments in the Chinese state media, however, have left the possibility of a transfer. Reports have said that while the case is being investigated by the police department, the National Security Office set up by Beijing in Hong Kong could take over that case was considered “complicated”.
“Because the case may involve complicated foreign-related factors, if further evidence leads to being difficult to investigate, the possibility of participating or even taking over the National Security Agency of the Central Government of Hong Kong cannot be ruled out,” said Beijing academic and supporters of the National Security Laws, Tian Feilong.
Lai was held for more than 40 hours. He was often seen in public during that time and walked around in handcuffs by the police, including through the Apple Daily newsroom.
Several reports described it as a perp walk, but Lai said his other movements “were not intentional displays”. He said they had to move police stations because the power went out at the neighborhood and then again when the fingerprint machine did not work.
Lai said the international support for him and the movement “gives us confidence to know what we are doing is right”.
“What we are doing to protect our city is the right thing to do because so many people have their backs.”
Additional reporting by Pei Lin Wu.