Apple Daily founder and pro democracy activist says his case will likely be a ‘litmus test’ of Hong Kong’s legal system.



Wary but defiant, Jimmy Lai is determined to keep fighting for a democratic Hong Kong, even as he acknowledges that China’s goal is to take full control of the region.

Speaking to the Guardian five days after his arrest on foreign collusion allegations – he is currently out on bail – media tycoon Lai argues the press must keep going. But he also believes that Monday’s round up was a warning from Beijing.

Six weeks ago the Chinese Communist Party government (CCP) imposed national security laws on Hong Kong which made even the mildest forms of activism a crime against the state. Dozens have since been arrested, including Lai, who owns the unashamedly pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid.

Hong Kongers were furious, but the days of two million-strong marches and violent street clashes with police are over, so they got creative. On days when Apple Daily would usually shift 70,000 copies they sold half a million, according to reports. Businesses booked adverts and traders bought his company’s “junk” stock, surging its price.

The future of protest in Hong Kong is creativity and patience, according to Lai. “We won’t get what we want in a short time … We have to be more flexible and cautious and find different ways to persist for the long term, not the short term,” he says.

“Time is on our side, time is our weapon. Not violence.”

The international community has responded to Beijing’s crackdown by revoking extradition agreements, putting sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials, and – in the UK – giving more than three million HongKongers with British National Overseas passports the right of abode.

“This has a tremendous positive effect in Hong Kong,” says Lai.

“Worse comes to worst, they can live in England where it’s a free country. So this will be a great intimidation to the CCP – if they push [Hong Kong] too hard everybody will leave.”

The cliche about Lai, who is also a British citizen, is that he is “Asia’s Rupert Murdoch” – rich, powerful, and passionate about the news. He is a prominent figure of the pro-democracy movement, unafraid to criticise Beijing.

“I think the more the US is involved in Asia, the better it is for everybody here to balance the CCP’s power.”

With the raid on Apple Daily, Hong Kong media’s fearsbecame reality. They’d been told the press was still free as long as they don’t break the new law, but no one could say what that looks like.

“We don’t know where the red line is, we don’t know where to toe the line,” says Lai. “For us, definitely, we’ll go on to do what we do.”

He says he’s not asking his journalists to be martyrs.

“What I tell my staff is: when you do your job consider your own safety, your conscience, and your obligation to society.”

“We always have to test… the bottom line. So as we go on we might have a few arrests, we might get a few punishments, but life has to go on and the press has to go on.”

So what is the movement’s endgame? The promised full democracy they’ve been seeking for years is “impossible” now, says Lai, but they will keep fighting anyway.

“Without fighting, we don’t have hope. We don’t know when we’ll win, but we’re so sure we’re on the right side of history, and time is on our side,” he says.