Editorial | Soft causes

Paulo Coutinho

For the first time in the history of Hong Kong, a newsroom was raided and searched by the police.
The headquarters of Next Digital media group, which operates the pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid, was raided last Monday by hundreds of officers, stoking fears that freedom of the press would be curtailed in Hong Kong.
The action followed the arrest of the newspaper owner and founder at his home, earlier the same day.
Jimmy Lai, 71, has long been a harsh critic of China’s ruling Communist Party and he is already facing trial on charges of participating in illegal assemblies going back to the banned June 4 vigil.
It is not totally surprising that the outspoken media magnate would be the highest-profile detainee under the new national security law (NSL) that took effect in Hong Kong on June 30, on the grounds of “colluding with a foreign power or entity.”
What was surprising – even for a man that has ‘seen it all,’ like the founder of Apple Daily – was the swift action of the newly-established national security agency, run by China: “I thought authorities would keep a low profile” because of the strong condemnation of the law in the international community.”
After 36 hours in custody, he was released on bail without charge.
But the image of over a hundred policemen entering and searching a newsroom, in a disproportionate show of force, arresting executives in the process, was a chilling sight for many, journalists in particular, on both sides of the Delta – and beyond.
This week, the topics of national security and freedom of the press were addressed by opposing parties in Macau.
On his way to a crucial trip to Beijing on Wednesday, Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said that it is not a requirement to copy the HKSAR when revising our existing legislation. Commenting on the specific case of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, he said he would not rule out the possibility of police conducting inspections on media outlets with a warrant from a court of law.
At the same time, human rights activist Jason Chao came out in public with a worrisome warning to the Macau press, notably to the local English and Portuguese media.
Speaking during an online press conference on human rights, Chao said it was “very likely the Macau authorities or the Chinese authorities will tighten their grip on the media outlets in Macau.”
As reported yesterday by Macau Daily Times, the activist used the analogy of the “boiling frog” to describe the situation facing the English and Portuguese-language press.
“Right now, you are relatively free to report whatever you want, but sooner or later I am concerned that they will look for a chance to take away this freedom from you,” Chao said. The rationale is that, according to information privy to him, the Chinese government was “not happy” about the way those media outlets reported on the civil unrest in neighboring Hong Kong last year.
On this occasion, Jason Chao also hinted at a strategic change in the pro-democrat course of action, focusing on what he described as “soft rights” vis a vis “hard rights,” the latter meaning political reform, democracy, personal freedoms.
Realpolitik is the name of the game here.

Categories Editorial Opinion