patten148_Anthony KwanGetty Images_jimmy lai Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Free Hong Kong's Fiercest Defender

The ongoing persecution of Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai is the most striking example of the authorities’ unprecedented campaign against press freedom. For democracy to prevail, people like Lai, who could spend the rest of his life behind bars, must not be forgotten.

HONG KONG – When it comes to China’s attitude toward the free world, Hong Kong has long been considered a canary in the coal mine. The Chinese government’s treatment of the territory is a good indicator of how the Communist Party of China (CPC) might engage with non-totalitarian countries. How Western governments respond to China’s recent actions may also be a reliable measure of the vitality and sustainability of liberal democracy as a model of governance.

As Hong Kong increasingly targets dissidents and shreds the freedoms that once defined it, a small chorus of Quislings will surely pretend that nothing has changed and nothing is amiss. Others may even claim that Hong Kong is freer today than it ever was. Hong Kong’s CPC-approved chief executive, John Lee, claimed recently that “press freedom is in our pocket.” Whose pocket Lee was referring to was left unsaid. In fact, Hong Kong’s press is not in anyone’s pocket, but rather in a CPC-designed cage.

The 2020 national-security law effectively curtailed press freedom, and the list of journalists targeted by Lee’s puppet regime has grown by the month. The Trust Project, an international consortium of news organizations that promotes transparency and accountability in media, halted its Hong Kong operations in November, citing an “increasingly difficult environment for news organizations to operate freely and independently.” Over the past few months, several journalists have been arrested, and others have been threatened. Ronson Chan, the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was arrested in September while reporting a story and charged with obstruction merely for doing his job. With journalists regularly incarcerated and newspapers gutted or closed down, it is hardly a surprise that public trust in the media has declined.