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Hong Kong Police Arrests A Prominent Pro-Democracy Figure, Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai


Police in Hong Kong have arrested one of the most prominent pro-democracy figures there. Jimmy Lai is a media tycoon, owner of the newspaper Apple Daily. Police took in him and six others, including his sons, under Hong Kong's new security law. They also raided the newspaper headquarters. Apple Daily has supported Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and criticized the government. Keith Richburg is a former China correspondent for The Washington Post, and he's now a professor at the University of Hong Kong.


KEITH RICHBURG: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about who Jimmy Lai is.

RICHBURG: Jimmy Lai is a very well-known, if somewhat controversial figure here. He was actually a clothing magnate. He actually started out with a clothing chain where he made his millions. And in 1995, he started Apple Daily, which was a very tabloid-y (ph), sensationalistic, but very pro-democracy newspaper.

Over the years, Jimmy Lai himself as an individual has come out as a staunch advocate of democracy. He's been at the forefront of a lot of protest movements, at the annual Tiananmen Square vigils, which mark the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students by Beijing People's Liberation Army troops. He's been out at the forefront. So he's drawn the ire of Beijing while at the same time kind of becoming a bit of a hero to the pro-democracy forces here.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like his arrest was designed for maximum impact. Can you describe how police carried it out?

RICHBURG: Absolutely it was designed for maximum impact. You know, they went to his house. There was video of him being marched out, you know, in handcuffs. And even more shocking, you had, you know, dozens and dozens of uniformed police officers entering Apple Daily, his newspaper, going into the newsroom floor and just surrounding the place using orange tape to kind of block the journalists from going to their own desks, lining up journalists, making them show ID cards, basically trying to stop journalists from actually filming what was going on, although some very brave ones continued to film, so we were able to see it live. It was a huge show of force. I mean, it seems like shock and awe here in Hong Kong.

SHAPIRO: So what's the message that leaders are trying to send with this show of force?

RICHBURG: The message seems to be that we're in a brave new world here. I mean, the national security law, which really only came into effect a little over 40 days ago, has changed the dynamic here. This used to be a place where we believed in the free press and where journalists could kind of operate relatively freely. This seemed to indicate now that things have changed here now. The police are in charge. They don't have to go to courts to get warrants. They can go to just basically one magistrate and get a secret warrant. They don't have to even announce to the public what the charges are going to be against anyone. They can hold trials in secret. National security trials can be held in secret. So it's a really - it's really a kind of a frightening new prospect here for journalists to operate.

SHAPIRO: You're already referring to the free press in the past tense. Is it that cut and dried?

RICHBURG: It does seem that way. It really does. And I know it's frightening to say it. It sounds dramatic to say it, but you have to say free press as we knew it in Hong Kong is dead. Politics is dead in Hong Kong. They've canceled the elections that were supposed to be held on September 6. They've disqualified some candidates who've already announced their intention on running. Now they've gone into a newsroom. The most popular newspaper in Hong Kong has had its newsroom raided and files - 250 boxes of files carted away. Student organizations have been disbanded. People are scrubbing their Facebook pages and scrubbing their social media presence, scrubbing their Twitter feeds because they're worried about being arrested.

There is a big chilled (ph) over Hong Kong right now. They have basically erased the border between Hong Kong and China. I mean, this thing goes on in China all the time. This is something that we never thought we would see here in Hong Kong, and it's come a lot faster, a lot swifter, in a lot more stern measure than we ever thought was - would be possible here.

SHAPIRO: Keith Richburg is director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

RICHBURG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.