Hong Kong’s national security police have arrested two executives and three news staff of Apple Daily, the only pro-democracy newspaper in the city, for foreign collusion, and raided its office.
CEO Cheung Kim-hung, COO Royston Chow, Chief Editor Ryan Law, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Platform Director of Apple Daily Digital Cheung Chi-wai were taken by police officers early on Thursday morning. They are accused of breaking Article 29 of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
At around 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, hundreds of police officers also raided the headquarters of Apple Daily in Tseung Kwan O, blocking all entrances of the office. All staff members were required to register with their identity cards, staff ID and personal information, before they were allowed in. They could only enter the canteen and were prevented from accessing other areas of the office. Journalists were not allowed to return to their own desks, and were barred from filming or live-streaming the raid.
Next Digital Limited (282), parent company of Apple Daily, has suspended trading.
In a press briefing on Thursday morning, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the national security unit, said authorities have frozen the HK$18 million (US$2.32 million) in assets, belonging to Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and the AD Internet Company.
Li accused the paper of publishing over 30 pieces of articles, both online and in print and in both Chinese and English, that sought foreign sanctions. “The questionable articles play a very crucial part in the conspiracy,” said Li. Reporters were banned from accessing their desks to allow officers to search the “crime scene” without any disruption, he added.
In a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, John Lee, Secretary for Security, accused Apple Daily of using “journalism as a tool to endanger national security” and an “umbrella” to protect itself. Police are actively investigating if people in or out of Apple Daily have participated in or instigated acts of endangering national security law, he added.
Lee sidestepped repeated questions on whether the articles concerned are news reports or opinion pieces. He stressed that the operation is not targeting the press in general and urged normal journalists to “keep a distance from criminals.”
According to a government statement, the police’s national security unit conducted a search operation at a media company with a search warrant under Article 43(1) of the national security law, which “covered the power of searching and seizure of journalistic materials.” The article stipulates that law enforcement authorities can search “premises, vehicles, vessels, aircraft and other relevant places and electronic devices that may contain evidence of an offence.”
The authorities also confirmed they arrested five directors of a company, aged 47-63, for “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”. Officers also went through their residences, the statement added.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has expressed concerns about the raid and the arrest. In the live-stream of the raid, police officers were seen turning on the computers on reporters’ desks, said chairperson Chris Yeung.
He said he could not understand why journalism would contravene the national security law and questioned the purposes of seizing journalistic materials. The warrant to search and seize journalistic materials shows that freedom of the press is severely undermined by the national security law. “There is zero protection of news materials,” he slammed.
The police last raided Apple Daily’s newsroom and arrested executives in August last year, weeks after the national security legislation took effect. Founder Jimmy Lai is now in jail over unauthorized assembly and faces a slew of further charges, including fraud and foreign collusion. Last month, authorities froze HK$500 million (US$64.41 million) in assets that belonged to Lai, including his shares in the Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily.
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