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The Raid on Apple Daily and beyond|Edward Chin

The raid on Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily and Next Magazine in Cheung Kwan O this past Thursday, was more than surreal. As we all know, the red line of the NSL (National Security Law) is vague and fluid, creating a chilling effect on everyone. To be honest, what is left in Hong Kong now is “unfree speech”: either you bow down and succumb or else you will get punished or face dire consequences. It’s there for all Hong Kongers to see.

Two cable channels most popular among Hong Kongers kept playing and looping a chilling message from Secretary for Security John Lee: “Don’t collude with Apple Daily’s management by any means or else you will face dire consequences.” There are a lot of assumptions made here, and that made subscribers to Apple Daily worry. If I buy a copy of Apple Daily from a news stand or am already taking out a monthly subscription or one of the VIP patrons, would I, as a reader, face official retribution? In a normal society, it would be insane to think this way, but sadly, Hong Kong has turned into something quite abnormal. Everyone hopes this horror show is just temporary, but no one is certain anymore.

A direct translation from Chinese to English of the first “From the Editor” in the inaugural publication of Apple Daily on June 20, 1995, reads as follows: “Apple Daily belongs to Hong Kong.” It was a newspaper for Hong Kong people to read, filling the gap in the market then in 1995 ̶ exactly two years before Hong Kong’s handover from the British to communist China. Fast forward from 1995 to the present day, we know that Hong Kong has become unrecognizable, and there are so many forces in play trying to outlaw the newspaper.

On Friday morning after the raid on Next Media, I went to my favorite news stand trying to get a copy of Apple Daily. I saw a few customers lining up before me to purchase not one, but many copies, perhaps as an indication of solidarity to support the newspaper. How can law-abiding Hong Kongers living in Hong Kong continue to put up with the situation in which even their basic right to choose what to read is not ensured? The NSL has become a fierce weapon that defies all logic, and very sadly, it makes a mockery of the original version 1.0 of “one country two systems” prescribed in the Basic Law.

How can Hong Kongers carry on their lives with an argument made by pro-establishment figures that journalistic work can still take place as long as it is “lawful”, while literally, they are under the gun every single minute? Different horror shows put up over the last twelve months since an extreme makeover given to Hong Kong has already created a “negative multiplier effect” that will definitely press a lot of Hong Kongers and expatriates to finally face the reality and make the tough decision ̶ leaving or staying. The answer is personal, but this “forced change” in this city could further intensify until it is too difficult for most people to bear.

Surreal is the only word I can use to describe 500 police officers raiding the Next Digital building. If being in defense of free speech and press freedom means the management, senior editorial staff and the majority shareholder of the most widely read newspaper (print plus on-line) held in detainment or given prison sentences, then my conclusion is simple: the harsh reality is under the “new normal”, some form of journalistic reporting cannot be tolerated in Hong Kong anymore. And broadly speaking, the totalitarian regime has an overarching power to decide what is legal or not. And with this very broad power in control of everything, you are restrained. International businesses operating in Hong Kong will now wonder: is it worth carrying on their businesses here when the authorities are empowered to detain anyone? And John Lee is surely empowered to freeze the assets of anyone in Hong Kong.

If you don’t comply, you could well face civil or criminal penalties: freezing of bank accounts, shutdown of venues, suspension of activities and detention of staff members ̶ things that have happened to Next Media, and the story is still developing. It is a very bad omen to see this massive raid right before the 26th anniversary of the publication of Apple Daily, June 20.

There have been so many hurtful and fateful days for Hong Kongers to remember, 6.4, 6.9, 6.12, 6.16, 7.21, 8.31, which I don’t want to explain more, and they are just too hurtful for the ordinary people to bear. As the saying goes, you might chain someone’s physical body, but you cannot chain someone’s soul and spirit. With the first anniversary of the NSL coming up, no matter what belief you hold on to and what side you are on, it is just a fair statement to say that Hong Kong has changed. And I believe, quite sadly to many, Hong Kong has gone to the point of no return.

Call me cautious or whatever you like: the situation in Hong Kong could intensify, and I know a lot of people are anxiously waiting for what is coming up next. I would rather stay calm, “be water” as people in Hong Kong say it, and have a positive outlook for tomorrow that would neutralize most fear factors. We all survive many storms in Hong Kong, so be chilled. And as a faith-based person, given all these challenging circumstances, I still believe God is in our corner!

(Edward Chin (錢志健) runs a family office. Chin was formerly Country Head of a UK publicly listed hedge fund, the largest of its kind measured by asset under management. Outside the hedge funds space, Chin is Convenor of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor and a Senior Advisor of Reporters Without Borders (RSF, HK & Macau). Chin studied speech communication at the University of Minnesota, and received his MBA from the University of Toronto. Twitter: edwardckchin Youtube: Ed Chin Channel Facebook.com/edckchin Email: edckchin@gmail.com)

Edward Chin’s article can be found in our Columnist section.

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