Hong Kong uses draconian security law to charge newspaper for first time

·3 min read
Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday - Apple Daily
Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday - Apple Daily

Hong Kong police used a sweeping national security law against a pro-democracy newspaper for the first time Thursday, arresting five editors and executives on charges of collusion with foreign powers.

Police said they had strong evidence that more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily played a “crucial part” in a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong, in response to a crackdown on civil liberties in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Apple Daily has often criticised the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for tightening control over the city and walking back on promises by Beijing that the territory could retain its freedoms when it was handed over from Britain in 1997.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for his role in unauthorised assemblies in 2019, during a period when Hong Kong saw massive anti-government protest calling for universal suffrage and democratic freedoms.

Apple Daily COO Royston Chow Tat Kuen (C) is escorted by police officers as he leaves the office - Shutterstock
Apple Daily COO Royston Chow Tat Kuen (C) is escorted by police officers as he leaves the office - Shutterstock

Police also froze $18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.3 million) worth of assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily, said Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent at Hong Kong's National Security Department.

More than 200 police officers were involved in the search of Apple Daily's offices, and the government said a warrant was obtained to look for evidence of a suspected violation of the national security law.

Those arrested included Apple Daily's chief editor Ryan Law, Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung, the publisher's chief operating officer and two other editors, according to Apple Daily, the South China Morning Post and other local media.

Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee told a news conference that police will investigate both people in the Apple Daily companies and others to establish if they have assisted in instigating or funding the offences.

He said that the police action against the Apple Daily editors and executives is not related to “normal journalistic work.”

“The action targeted the use of journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security,” he said, warning people to keep a distance from those who are under investigation as they are not “normal journalists.”

On the day of the imposition of the National Security law, Apple Daily ran a front page saying 'one country, two systems is dead' - AP
On the day of the imposition of the National Security law, Apple Daily ran a front page saying 'one country, two systems is dead' - AP

He said that anyone who engages in journalistic work in Hong Kong must abide by the laws, including the national security legislation.

“I'd like to say here that you should not collude with these perpetrators, do not be in cahoots with them, otherwise you will pay a hefty price,” Lee said. “Distance yourself from them, otherwise all you are left with are regrets.”

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung said in an online news conference that the arrests and raid on Apple Daily could create a chilling effect on society. He raised concerns about the use of the national security law as a “weapon to prosecute media executives and journalists for publishing reports and articles that are deemed as a threat to national security.”

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