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Arrest of Jimmy Lai is assault against HK’s citizens' freedoms – WAN-IFRA

WAN-IFRA, the World Association of News Publishers and the World Editors Forum, have expressed grave concern over the arrest in Hong Kong on Monday of Jimmy Lai, the founder and publisher of Apple Daily.

Arrest of Jimmy Lai is assault against HK’s citizens' freedoms – WAN-IFRA
Fernando De Yarza Lopez-Madrazo: “It is a dark day for journalism and press freedom in Hong Kong.” Photograph: Hong Kong - Bady Abbas on Unsplash

The press organisations are also deeply concerned about the continued detention of Hopewell Chin'ono, a Zimbabwean journalist and 2010 Nieman Fellow and the increased jail time for Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein in Egypt.

Mr Lai, his two sons, and six executives of Apple Daily's parent company, Next Digital, were arrested under new National Security Laws early on Monday and some 200 policemen raided the Apple Daily offices. The laws, which were adopted by China for the city at the end of June, criminalise secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces - the charge levied against Mr Lai.

Apple Daily, a tabloid, is Hong Kong's widest-read publication, both in print and online.

WAN-IFRA President, Fernando De Yarza Lopez-Madrazo said the arrests and raid confirmed fears that the new law would be used to silence pro-democracy voices and the press. “It is a dark day for journalism and press freedom in Hong Kong. We strongly condemn the actions of Hong Kong’s National Security Department police on Monday as an assault on its citizens’ freedoms. It will unnerve not just the millions of inhabitants who were out on the streets for months on end, in a bid to uphold democracy, but journalists and human rights’ advocates worldwide. It risks increasing self-censorship in the city and stifling critical journalism.”

The world’s press is also increasingly concerned about the fate of jailed journalists, Zimbabwean Hopewell Chin’ono and Egyptian Mahmoud Hussein.

Last week, the Zimbabwean courts denied bail to Chin’ono, a 2010 Nieman Fellow, accusing him of stoking violence ahead of planned anti-government protests. Chin’ono has been actively exposing corruption in Zimbabwe.

On Sunday, the Egyptian authorities extended the detention of Al Jazeera journalist, Hussein, for another 45 days. He has been in jail since December 2016, surpassing the legal limit of detention without trial. Egypt has ignored calls by the UN for it to end the arbitrary detention.

Warren Fernandez, President of the World Editors Forum, said: “We are deeply concerned about the rise in jailings of journalists. We stand with editors on the continent in calling for the release of Mr Chin’ono and urge regional powers to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to stop criminalising critical journalism. We also believe that Mr Hussein should be released, particularly in light of the worsening health conditions in Egypt's jails."

Last month veteran Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir, who contracted COVID-19 while in pre-trial detention, died in hospital.