Hong Kong Police Arrest Apple Daily Executives

HONG KONG – When Hong Kong police arrested Jimmy Lai, a pugnacious newspaper editor last year, they appeared to be attacking a longtime critic of the government. City officials on Thursday sent a message to the rest of the media industry: be careful what you write.

Hundreds of police raided the newsroom of Mr. Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, scanned reporters’ computers, arrested editors, froze corporate accounts and warned readers of do not republish some of its articles online.

The raid and the new restrictions were the most aggressive use to date of the sweeping Hong Kong National Security Law, imposed by Beijing last year, against a media outlet, and could call the newspaper’s survival into question. The operation was a sharp escalation in the escalation of the authorities’ frontal assault on the media in Hong Kong, a former British colony once known for its vibrant media scene and broad protections against free speech.

Pressure on Apple Daily had been mounting for months, with officials and pro-Beijing voices citing the newspaper for criticism.

“But today’s actions are still shocking,” said Yuen Chan, senior lecturer in journalism at City, University of London, who previously worked for Hong Kong media, highlighting the raid and the seizure of computers. , among others. “We have to remember that until very recently a free press was considered ‘normal’ in Hong Kong.”

In recent months, the government has decided to curb the media. He sought to overhaul a public broadcaster known for its investigative work, replacing editors and pulling programs. Senior police officials have warned journalists that they may be investigated for reporting “false news.” In April, a court convicted a journalist for making false statements for a report that criticized the police.

Police said they arrested five executives and editors of Apple Daily and its parent company, Next Digital, on suspicion of “colluding with a foreign country or with outside elements to endanger national security.”

Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law was taken in handcuffs to his apartment. Trading in shares of Next Digital was suspended in Hong Kong on Thursday morning following news of the arrests.

With its accounts frozen, Apple Daily would struggle to pay its staff of around 700, said Mark Simon, an aide to Mr. Lai, the newspaper’s founder, who is in jail for participating in illegal protests. accusations according to his supporters are fabricated. to silence him.

“We are going through an incredibly difficult time. I don’t know what’s going to happen, ”said Simon. “I think they’re going to keep coming and going.”

Images released by Apple Daily reporters showed police officers taking suitcases from Next Digital headquarters. A photo posted by Apple Daily on its Instagram account showed agents browsing files on reporters’ computers. After the photo was taken, the journalists were kicked out of the newsroom, which was declared a crime scene.

Police said a search warrant authorized police to search and seize journalistic material.

Apple Daily reporters live streamed the police raid last year from the newsroom. But on Thursday, police restricted employees’ access to certain floors of the building and warned them to turn off their cameras.

Police said an investigation showed more than 30 Apple Daily articles urged foreign countries to adopt sanctions against Hong Kong and China. The United States has imposed sanctions on officials in Hong Kong and China for measures taken by Beijing to subdue the city. Under the Security Law, calls for such sanctions are considered acts of collusion with foreign countries. Mr. Lai, the newspaper’s founder, also faces separate National Security Act charges for allegedly calling for international sanctions against Hong Kong.

“We have very strong evidence that the articles in question play a crucial role in the whole plot, providing talking points for foreign countries or overseas institutions to impose sanctions,” Li Kwai-wah, a chief superintendent of the national security department of the police, said at a press conference.

Mr. Li also cautioned the public against sharing articles from Apple Daily. “As a law enforcement officer, I would advise you not to arouse suspicion,” he said. He did not specify which articles.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, denied that the raid and arrests would undermine press freedom in the city and warned reporters to distance themselves from Apple Daily.

“This action has nothing to do with the normal work of journalism,” he said. “It targets the alleged use of journalism as a tool to commit acts endangering national security. Normal journalists are different from them. Don’t get involved with them and stay away from them.

The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, Beijing’s official body in Hong Kong, called the arrests and asset freezes fair and made it clear that there were limits to freedom of expression enshrined in it. the mini-constitution of the city.

“There are no rights and freedoms without borders. No one can undermine the bottom line of national security, ”the office said in a statement.

The government’s accusations against Apple Daily have alarmed media freedom advocates in the city.

“We simply cannot see how articles or reports in the media would pose a threat to national security,” said Chris Yeung, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. “This raises concerns that the speeches may be considered action and are vulnerable to national security law. “

In addition to Mr Law, the editor-in-chief, executives arrested included Next’s chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, and Tat Kuen-chow, its executive director. Among the editors arrested were Cheung Chi-wai, editor-in-chief, and Chan Puiman, deputy editor.

Authorities froze approximately $ 2.3 million in accounts owned by Apple Daily and affiliates.

Mr. Lai and his newspaper have long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, and Beijing has targeted him as one of its main enemies in the territory.

Hong Kong Police Chief Chris Tang singled out Apple Daily in April for its coverage of a police-staged national security event and warned authorities would investigate media outlets believed to have endangered national security.

Despite increasing pressure on Apple Daily, its reporters have pledged to get back to work. “As difficult as the current circumstances may be, we will continue our work with the aim of publishing our newspapers as usual tomorrow,” the Next Media union wrote in a statement.

But the newspaper admitted that his fate was out of his hands. “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless,” Apple Daily said in a letter to its readers, posted on its website. “It seems that we are powerless to face it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing what it wants.”

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