The dramatic arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the invasive raid of Apple Daily, the pro-democracy newspaper he founded, this week signals the start of a new Red Terror for the formerly free city. When China imposed a new national security law for Hong Kong on June 30, activists knew they may soon be living under the same repressive laws that keep the rest of China in line. Now the worst fears of freedom lovers in Hong Kong are confirmed as authorities ramp up arrests of high-profile pro-democracy leaders.
For Lai and Apple Daily, enforcement of the national security law means the death of freedom of the press. He was arrested on suspicion of “colluding” with foreign forces, an offense that was created by the new law. But none of this came as a surprise to the publisher. In a New York Times op-ed published in late May, Lai wrote, “I have feared that one day the Chinese Communist Party would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people. That day has come.”
China is targeting any dissent
The press is not the only target. Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old student leader of the pro-democracy movement, was arrested under the national security law earlier this week. The targeting of the soft-spoken activist comes four months after the arrest of 82-year-old Martin Lee, founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Known for being a moderate who works within the system, seven police officers came to arrest him for participating in a peaceful unauthorized demonstration.
With the arrests of these individuals who can hardly be considered national security risks, Beijing’s goal is clear: All voices of dissent that refuse to toe the party’s propaganda line will be eradicated.
Even American citizens are not exempt from the reach of the new law. Samuel Chu, 42, a California-based naturalized American citizen of almost 25 years, is now on a Chinese wanted list for supposedly “colluding with foreign forces.” His crime? Advocating for the U.S. government to take measures to protect Hong Kong’s democracy and autonomy from Chinese encroachment.
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Under the national security law, dissent from Beijing’s authoritarian takeover of Hong Kong is illegal, no matter where in the world someone is. Beijing’s long arm is already implementing the draconian law in Hong Kong. Now, it seeks to extend its reach well beyond its borders.
It is worth noting that Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow and Martin Lee are all devout Roman Catholics. In the past, the Vatican has acted as a stalwart advocate for the human rights of all people. Yet, faced with Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong and the many religious freedom concerns that come with it, Pope Francis remains noticeably silent.
Hong Kong deserves support
In 2018, the Vatican reached an agreement with Beijing allowing the Chinese government to nominate bishops. The text of the agreement was never released, and the Vatican has declined to criticize the many human rights violations since then. Rather than champion freedom, the Vatican’s silence now sends the signal to oppressive regimes around the world that it is willing to tolerate violations of human rights and religious freedom.
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As Beijing swallows Hong Kong, the city is no longer recognizable as a symbol of freedom and prosperity. Since the new national security law passed this summer, Hong Kong is looking less like itself and more like mainland China. This is devastating for those who value freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious freedom and other human rights.
The freedom lovers of Hong Kong deserve global support in their face-off against the world’s most powerful authoritarian government. Beijing is seeking to crush the voices of the city where millions once flooded the streets in support of democracy. As Beijing cracks down on dissent in Hong Kong, the rest of the world must not similarly fall silent.
Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, is senior fellow for the International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. Arielle Del Turco is the assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.