Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who was arrested over alleged collusion with foreign forces, has called on Americans to support Hong Kong's fight for freedoms, saying he hoped it would eventually change China's behaviour, which he said "went against international values".
"If we don't change [China], the world will not have peace," he warned.
The appeal by the Hong Kong media mogul was made a day after he walked free on bail, and spoke of the ordeal in a live-streamed session organised by the Heritage Foundation, an American think tank based in Washington, on Thursday morning.
Lai also warned the people of Hong Kong against radicalism and urged them to steel themselves for a long fight to resist the encroachment on the city's autonomy.
"We're like an egg and there is a high wall. We have to be very flexible, innovative and patient," he said.
Lai, along with his two sons and four senior employees of the tabloid-style newspaper, known for its scathing criticisms of Beijing, was arrested on Monday when more than 200 officers raided the Apple Daily offices, sparking an international backlash as it was seen as another blow to the city's press freedom.
The Communist Party's mouthpiece, People's Daily, ran an online commentary on Thursday, saying that just because Lai was released on bail "did not mean that he can escape from precise punishment under the city's law".
The criticism was made as Lai, along with his company Next Digital and four senior executives in Apple Daily, sought a court order for the police to return journalistic materials and other documents they might have wrongfully seized.
They asked the High Court to allow them to inspect the seized documents and take back those that were either related to legal proceedings or news reporting, or obtained without officers' powers.
In the 40-minute live chat with the US think tank, the 72-year-old media boss was often seen choking back tears as the American audience expressed their support for him.
"There's never a moment in my life I felt so touched and happy. I feel what I've done is correct, no matter how big the challenges have been," he said.
Lai said he did not expect the arrests to come so early, considering the "strong responses from the international community" after Beijing imposed the sweeping national security law on June 30.
Despite being charged with alleged collusion with foreign forces and fraud, he appealed to Americans for their support for Hong Kong's fight for freedom.
"If they voice out their support to Hong Kong, the politicians will have to listen and react. That would be a very good stamina for us," he said.
"The support doesn't have to be sanctions or anything."
Lai believed international efforts would change China's behaviour and attitudes, which had gone against established Western values.
"Without assimilating into Western values, there won't be peace in international trade, politics and diplomacy," he added.
The livestream was joined by the think tank's senior fellow Mike Gonzalez, who highlighted the bipartisan support offered to Lai by US politicians.
"The country is very divided but this is the only thing on which everyone agreed … Sanctions against Carrie Lam could be taken to another level," he said.
The Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on 11 current and former Chinese officials, including Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, marking a drastic escalation in tensions with Beijing over its imposition of the national security law on the semi-autonomous city.
Lai became the highest-profile figure to be held under the new law.
The raid of the newspaper's headquarters in Tseung Kwan O – the biggest police operation since the law took effect – sparked an outcry and prompted more readers to purchase its copies from vendors. On Thursday, the daily printed 138,000 copies, almost doubling its regular circulation.
Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Next Digital, Apple Daily's parent company, said the newspaper's website had recorded a rise in the number of paid subscribers by 20,000 since the arrests, and its total subscribers had now surpassed 600,000.
Advertisements on the newspaper's Thursday's issue also surged significantly, with three full-page ads, including two that read: "We support even if a blank paper is printed!"
A sneaker-and-clothing shop in Mong Kok, Second Kill, published a quarter-page advert that said: "Money can buy sneakers, but cannot buy democracy and freedom."
Young activist Agnes Chow Ting, of the now-disbanded group Scholarism, who was among 10 people arrested over the national security law, also spoke on Wednesday night of her experience, which she had earlier described as the "scariest" arrest she had encountered.
Chow accused police of attempting to break in her flat with tools when officers rang the doorbell. "It is very different from how they did [it] before," she recalled, adding police had taken away 20 items – including two computers, three phones and a picture of her with activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung – as evidence.
She said she was "very worried" when she spent her first night in a police cell, as the court could deny her bail under the new law.
"I cried alone, and cried when I met my lawyer. I'm really afraid," she said.
"I also thought that there might be more people, who are less well-known than me, but will face a similar or even worse situation in the future. It's really hard to imagine this is the Hong Kong I am living in."
- South China Morning Post