In his first live appearance following his dramatic arrest on Monday, August 10, Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai had these words to say: “The show must go on.”
During a 40-minute Q&A session streamed to the Twitter account of his Apple Daily newspaper on Thursday, August 13, Lai became emotional as he spoke about continued activism.
“Hong Kong is a beautiful city,” he said, responding to a question in Cantonese. “It is important to protect it.”
In his remarks, Lai remained resolute against Chinese intimidation and thanked his supporters, who came out en masse to buy his Apple Daily paper.
“People really support us,” he said. “The oxygen is getting thin, and we are all choking. But even when we are choking, we are still taking care of each other.”
He agreed that the pro-democracy movement was a continued “long fight.”
“The world doesn’t want to confront China because they’re so big,” he said, adding that the international community hoped China would change its behavior.
“Without assimilating to the international Western values, there won’t be peace in international trade, politics or diplomacy ,” he added.
Lai’s defiant comments follow his high-profile arrest, along with the arrest of fellow pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow under the city’s new national security law. The vague and wide-reaching law bans secession, subversion and foreign interference, and threatens a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Last week, charges were also laid out against 24-high profile activists in an attempt to silence opposition voices.
Following his release, Lai told the BBC that his arrest was “just the beginning” and said he has “no regrets” about his pro-democracy activism.
“I would not have done things any other way—this is my character.”
Still, he warned that protesters have to be “more careful and creative” in their response because of the consequences of the new law.
Lai received a hero’s welcome on Wednesday, August 12, when he returned to the Apple Daily office. The paper’s staff lined the corridors and applauded as he walked toward his office.
“I am very touched,” Lai told them. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to run media in Hong Kong but we have the support of the people and we can’t let them down.”
In mainland China, Lai’s arrest continues to make waves. On the popular Sina Weibo micro-blogging site, state media praised efforts by Hong Kong police in arresting Lai.
Angry Chinese users also labeled Lai “a traitor” and called for him to be sent to China for trial.
“The kind of Western mentality he promotes is disgusting and infuriating and he should be punished accordingly,” wrote one user.
Another said: “Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call for Lai and his accomplices in smearing the name of our country.”
Legal experts previously told VICE News that Lai’s latest arrest will serve as a benchmark for future cases dealing with the new national security law.
Simon Young, a law professor and associate dean of research at the Hong Kong University, told VICE News on Tuesday, August 11 that while he expects a possible trial to remain in Hong Kong, there is a lot at stake.
“The recent arrests will indeed serve as test cases for everyone in Hong Kong on how the new security act will operate in practice.”