China Web Users Hail Arrest of Jimmy Lai, Seek Trial on Mainland
(Bloomberg) -- The arrest of Jimmy Lai has prompted an outpouring of support for the Beijing government among Chinese state media and Weibo users, with some people suggesting the Hong Kong media tycoon should be tried on the mainland.
Video clips and images of Lai’s arrest Monday were trending a day later on Chinese microblogging website Weibo, with their popularity boosted by state media outlets and government accounts promoting or reposting them. So were some posts related to prominent Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow, who was reportedly arrested hours later. The official Weibo accounts of some regional police bureaus, prosecutors and courts also reposted Lai’s arrest.
Lai was arrested under the national security law China enacted on the city in June, and police officers raided the offices of the Next Digital Ltd. founder’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper in scenes that shocked Hong Kong and fueled concerns about the city’s freedoms. The sweeping legislation aims to punish acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security.” Under some circumstances, those detained under the law can be taken to the mainland to stand trial.
A few Weibo posts that were not affiliated with state media called for Lai to be sent to China. “Can he not get bail this time? This kind of political prisoner, should immediately be sent to mainland for trial!,” wrote user @Yingzi-Mulan. Poster @AgapeHe concurred, writing: “Hope he’ll be sent to mainland for trial and receive a heavy sentence as soon as possible.”
It was difficult to know if any users opposed the arrests, as China’s internet is heavily censored. Some Weibo users showed support for Lai and Chow in coded language to evade censorship.
Some social media users posted previous video interviews of Lai as “evidence” of his guilt and said he should be taught a lesson. But most Weibo posts and state media reports were more celebratory in tone, with some asserting that the arrests of Lai and other Next Digital executives on Monday came about “to the great satisfaction of people.”
A video clip of pro-government Hong Kong citizens popping open fizzy drinks to toast Lai’s arrest also gained widespread traction on Weibo. The video was widely promoted by the Communist Party mouthpiece the Global Times and state media accounts. But Hong Kong authorities have fined the video’s pro-Beijing participants for violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules, Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper reported.
The reaction in China stood in sharp contrast to responses in democratically run Taiwan, where the local edition of Apple Daily ran a front page story that referred to the arrests as “Hong Kong White Terror” -- a term used most recently to refer to a decades-long period of political suppression on the island.
An editorial published by the paper said that Hong Kong’s security law forced media to refrain from expressing opinions differing from the government’s but stressed that Apple Daily would stick to its core principles of democracy and freedom.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV posted on its official Weibo account a video commentary by host Li Zimeng about Lai’s detention and Monday’s sanctioning by China of 11 American individuals. The move came in retaliation for U.S. sanctions on senior officials in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
“These moves are likely to be the first step. What punishment will he face? What will be detailed measures of sanction?” Li asked. “The public is expecting follow up.”
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