Jimmy Lai, 71, founder of media group Next Digital and its flagship Apple Daily was arrested and released on bail along with 14 other activists, including a current lawmaker, on Saturday April 18th, for “organising and participating in unauthorised assemblies” during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations last year. He had already been arrested in February for his involvement in a demonstration on a separate date last year.
These moves come amidst intense debates about the mainland's interference in Hong Kong affairs, with Legislative Council elections just months away, and when social distancing rules taken against coronavirus limit the ability of protestors to continue the wave of demonstrations that started in the summer of 2019.
“Jimmy Lai’s arrest at home, in view of the public, is unjustified and is a blatant attempt to damage his reputation.” said Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) East Asia bureau. “Hong Kong authorities must immediately put an end to this harassment campaign, which aims to dissuade the media from covering the pro-democracy demonstrations.”
Apple Daily, founded and run by Jimmy Lai until 2015, is one of few Hong Kong publications that openly criticizes the Beijing regime and is notable for its pro-democracy advocacy. Since Apple Daily’s coverage of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, Lai has been the victim of a 2015 arrest and a petrol bombing on his home. Apple Daily was also the victim of cyber attacks during this time.
During last year’s massive demonstrations, which saw millions of Hong Kongers take to the streets to protest Beijing’s burgeoning influence, Apple Daily reporters were amongst the numerous journalists threatened and assaulted, and Lai’s home was once again hit with petrol bombs.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China is ranked 80th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, after falling from 18th position in 2002. China is ranked 177th.