The Canadian government is strongly condemning the arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai whose Apple Daily newspaper has been sharply critical of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
It also denounced the fact that Hong Kong police entered and searched the offices of the tabloid-style Apple Daily, which is among the most popular newspapers in Hong Kong.
The move against Mr. Lai and his newspaper comes amid Beijing’s crackdown against pro-democracy opposition in the city and further stokes concerns that media and other promised freedoms would be compromised when Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. China imposed a sweeping new security law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.
The “police raid on the offices of Apple Daily and the arrests of members of its management, including Jimmy Lai, have significantly eroded the press freedom meant to be guaranteed under the Hong Kong Basic Law,” Syrine Khoury, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said in a prepared statement.
“Canada strongly supports the right of journalists and media everywhere to operate in an environment free from intimidation and harassment by state authorities.”
The Basic Law is the constitutional document for Hong Kong that is supposed to guarantee autonomy for the former British colony after it was taken over by China in 1997. The Chinese government had pledged in a treaty with Britain that, for 50 years after the handover, Hong Kongers would be guaranteed freedoms not available elsewhere in China, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
“Canada is deeply concerned at Beijing’s imposition of the new National Security Law, which has eroded the fundamental rights and liberties of the Hong Kong people and undermined the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework,” Ms. Khoury said.
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney said this incident represents the end of Hong Kong as an oasis of protected speech in China.
“The arrest of Lai, who is colourful and ferociously outspoken, is the clearest possible indicator that Hong Kong, which once was a magnet for such people, has become just another Chinese city.”
Mr. Mulroney said the raid and arrest should lay to rest any speculation that China might restrain itself in the imposition of the new national security law.
“Lai’s arrest represents the moment, present in almost every China crisis, when Beijing makes clear that not only is it doing precisely what people feared it would do, but it’s actually going much farther.”
According to CBC News, which interviewed Mr. Lai earlier this month, his sister and mother have lived in Ontario and his family has purchased and built businesses in Niagara-on-the Lake.
Ai-Men Lau, an adviser with Alliance Hong Kong Canada, an umbrella group in Canada for pro-democracy advocates, said the attack on a venerable Hong Kong media outlet is one justification for the Canadian government to accept refugees from Hong Kong.
“This is another reason why Canada needs to act … there’s no more rule of law there.”
As The Globe and Mail reported, 46 Hong Kong citizens – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year as China tightened its grip on the Asian city – are seeking asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police and fear of unjust prosecution.
The 46 would-be refugees from Hong Kong applied for asylum claims between Jan. 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020. The claims, which are all pending, were received at airports, Canada Border Services Agency bureaus and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offices across the country. Many of those claiming asylum face charges in Hong Kong in connection with the protests.
Ms. Lau said that Monday represents “the beginning of the beginning of the end of freedom of the press in Hong Kong.”
Canadian members of Parliament will begin hearings on the erosion of rights in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said he’d like to see the Canadian government follow the United States in imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on Chinese officials found to be responsible for human-rights abuses in Hong Kong as well as in Xinjiang, where the Chinese Communist Party has locked up hundreds of thousands of minority Uyghurs in detention camps.
Canada’s Magnitsky Act is named after Russian tax expert Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison after uncovering fraud in Russia. Advocates of imposing sanctions on Chinese officials include former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, Hong Kong-Canadian pro-democracy groups and more than a dozen Canadian senators.
With a report from Reuters
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.