Hong Kong’s national security police, using the national security law, have arrested five editorial executives of the Apple Daily newspaper for their role in the publication of dozens of articles alleged to be part of a conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.
The early morning raids involving hundreds of officers also resulted in the freezing of the corporate accounts of the company and imperilling the future of the region’s most feisty, investigative paper.
Apple Daily named those arrested as editor-in-chief, Ryan Law; the chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung; the chief operating officer, Chow Tat-kuen; the deputy chief editor, Chan Puiman; and the chief executive editor, Cheung Chi-wai.
The Apple Daily live stream showed Law being led out of the paper’s offices in handcuffs early Thursday morning.
The city’s security chief, John Lee, accused those arrested of using “journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security”, and issued a chilling warning to residents and other media.
“Normal journalists are different from these people,” Lee said. “Please keep a distance from them.”
The police said the five had been arrested on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security, through articles which called for sanctions to be imposed on Hong Kong and mainland China.
The articles reportedly date back to 2019. Authorities have made repeated assurances since the implementation of the controversial and wide-ranging national security law in June 2020 that it was not retroactive.
All five were arrested at their homes at around 7am while at the same time police also searched Apple Daily’s newsroom and its offices, saying the warrant covered “the power of searching and seizure of journalistic materials”.
Police also froze HK$18m (US$2.3m) in assets of three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited. Parent company, Next Digital, announced the suspension of trading in its shares before markets opened on Thursday.
The police operation is a significant escalation in the government’s moves to stifle Hong Kong’s press, of which the pro-democracy tabloid was widely considered to be a primary target.
The owner of the paper, pro-democracy campaigner and tycoon Jimmy Lai, has been in jail since late last year on charges relating to the 2019 protests and allegations of national security offences.
Apple Daily livestreamed the police raid on the office, which showed officers leading Law into the building, apparently with his hands tied behind his back. The paper also published a photo of a police officer searching through a reporter’s computer. Apple Daily said 38 journalists’ computers were seized.
“This is the worst of times in Hong Kong,” said Apple Daily in an open letter to its readers. It said the city’s press freedom was “hanging by a thread”, but it vowed to stand tall and had “no regrets”.
The staff union said it was “enraged” by the arrests, and described the court decision to grant a warrant seizing journalistic materials as “regrettable”.
“As difficult as the circumstances may be, we will carry on with our jobs with the aim to publish our papers as normal tomorrow.”
The raids were condemned by journalism and human rights groups. Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrests destroyed “any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports freedom of the press”.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said he was “out of words to describe my anger and sadness”.
“Authoritarianism is waging a brutal war on Apple Daily, a desperately endangered symbol of freedom in Hong Kong.” (Source: The Guardian)