Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thugs descend on Hong Kong: Attacks on Jimmy Lai and Chen Ping

Next Media's Jimmy Lai
Worrying signs in Hong Kong that underworld figures are being used to silence Beijing’s critics

Apparently this development isn’t newsworthy enough for my employer, so here it is — an exclusive. Less than three weeks after Chen Ping (陳平), the billionaire publisher of iSun Affairs magazine, was assaulted as he was leaving his office in Hong Kong, early this morning someone crashed a stolen vehicle into the gate of media mogul Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英) residence in Kowloon before speeding away. Ominously, they left an axe and a knife behind.

Although Hong Kong police has yet to break the cases, the incidents are hardly a coincidence and they suggest active efforts to intimidate the two influential men. Soon after his hospitalization in early June, Mr. Chen told a press conference that the source of the attack was probably to be found in Beijing, or within pro-Beijing types in Hong Kong. “I don’t think I’ve offended the mafia, but maybe the mafia-types were told what to do by certain other people,” he said. “Maybe I offended a few people in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.” Indeed, iSun, which is currently undergoing restructuring, has a solid tradition of presenting articles that are highly critical of the CCP on questions such as human rights and Tibet.

Chen shows his injuries
The same applies to Mr. Lai’s Apple Daily, which is banned in the Mainland for its criticism of the party and overt support for Hong Kong democrats. Nor was this morning’s incident his first brush with violence: Molotov cocktails were lobbed at his residence in 2008. Mr. Lai, the owner of the Next Media group, made news in Taiwan last year after he announced his intention to sell his Taiwan media operations to a consortium led by the Beijing-friendly Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), chairman of the Want Want China Times Group, a move that directly led to the formation of the Anti-Media Monopoly movement. After the deal fell through, Lai announced his renewed commitment to keeping his operations in Taiwan intact, minus Next TV.

Those two cases, along with physical attacks in recent years against other well-known figures in Hong Kong, such as Abert Ho (何俊仁) and Albert Chan (陳偉業) — or just last week, against a 50-year-old man who was trying to stop harassment of the Falun Gong movement (the Youth Care Association is believed to be behind the beating) — raise worrying questions about the environment in which supporters of democracy and media freedom now operate in the former British territory. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what this might portend for the media environment in Taiwan, which is also under tremendous pressure from Beijing.

More and more, it seems that thugs and violence are being used to silence critics of Beijing in Hong Kong. Stay tuned...

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