Hong Kong: Arrests raise concerns over selective law enforcement

Jimmy Lai, owner of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested on February 28 on suspicion of taking part in an anti-extradition assembly. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the police for arresting Lai’s and suppressing freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai leaving the police station. Credit: AFP

On February 28, Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Media Limited, was arrested alongside pro-democracy figures Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum for allegedly taking part in an assembly during an anti-extradition law demonstration last August 31. Under the Public Order Ordinance it is an offence for three or more people to “act together in a disorderly manner with the intent to cause others to fear that a breach of peace will be committed”. Lai was taken to Western Police station in Hong Kong where he was released at 1 pm on the same day with his case to be heard on May 5. Lai is also accused of insulting an Oriental Daily reporter in Victoria Park in 2017, however the Justice Department never filed the case.

Lai’s Next Media Limited owns the Apply Daily newspaper; the second bestselling newspaper in Hong Kong. Lee and Yeung also have strong ties to the democracy movement; Lee was previously the chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and Yeung the former chief of the Democratic Party.

Conversely, there have been several attacks on people linked to the Apply Daily that did not result in any arrests, as documented by IFJ’s affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA). In September 2019, a female reporter from Apple daily who reported frequently on the anti-extradition protests was doxxed, harassed and assaulted by a group of thugs. The thugs mentioned Lai during the assault and later in the same month, Lai’s home was attacked using a petrol bomb. No arrests were made in relation to these incidents.

The IFJ has recorded numerous instances of journalists being threatened, attacked and harassed by police over the last year with no prosecution despite requests by HKJA and the IFJ to investigate these cases.

In an open letter to the Hong Kong Commissioner for Police, HKJA call on the police to “stop treating reporters as enemies”.

 “The use of force, violence, verbal abuses and humiliation by police (has) turned from bad to worse. We have issued numerous public statements, made countless calls to Chief Executive Carrie Lam and you for an explanation of the relevant policy/policies and problems in the process of execution regarding specific cases and the problems in general,” HKJA added.

The IFJ said: “Given the selective arresting of media workers in Hong Kong, the IFJ finds Lai’s arrest highly suspicious. The IFJ condemns the arrest of Lai and urges Hong Kong authorities to review the political bias in police practices to enable journalists to carry out their jobs safely and exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on 
+61 2 9333 0918

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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