Jimmy Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy figures, was arrested on Monday under the new security law brought in by China. Following the arrest of the media tycoon and other individuals, Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused China of using the new law as a pretext to silence opposition.
A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in the UK issued a statement in response to Mr Johnson’s remarks.
It read: “The Chinese side expresses grave concern over and strong opposition to the UK side’s irresponsible remarks on the lawful arrest of seven individuals, including Jimmy Lai.
“Such remarks are in disregard of China’s solemn opposition and constitute yet another act of interference in Hong Kong’s judicial affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.
“Hong Kong is under the rule of law, where no one has extra-judicial privilege.
“Jimmy Lai and a small group of anti-China elements seeking to disrupt Hong Kong have colluded with external forces in acts and activities that jeopardize China’s national security and challenge the limits of law.
“Their arrest is a lawful act of duty and responsibility by the enforcement institution of Hong Kong SAR.”
Mr Lai’s newspaper offices were raided on Monday following allegations of collusion with foreign forces.
Mr Lai’s media company, Next Digital Media, said it was “furious” about the raid and arrests.
READ MORE: China news: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested amid new law
“We are deeply concerned by the arrest of Jimmy Lai and six other individuals in Hong Kong.
“Freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and basic law, and is supposed to be protected under Article Four of the National Security Law.”
But the Chinese Embassy in the UK demanded Mr Johnson to stop using freedom of press “as an excuse to discredit” the new law.
The Embassy spokesperson said: “Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs.
“We urge the UK side to have a clear understanding of the reality and the overwhelming trend, immediately stop using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit the National Security Law for Hong Kong SAR, stop supporting anti-China elements seeking to disrupt Hong Kong, and stop interfering in the affairs and judicial independence of Hong Kong SAR.
“Interference in China’s internal affairs in whatever form are self-defeating.”
The arrest of Mr Lai marks one of the biggest moves in Beijing’s crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia programme coordinator, said it “bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong’s National Security Law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom.
“Jimmy Lai should be released at once and any charges dropped.”
The new security law reduces Hong Kong’s autonomy and has introduced new crimes with severe penalties giving Beijing extensive powers.