Hong Kong police have arrested five executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, and seized assets from their office during an early morning raid on Thursday where nearly 500 police personnel went through the computers and notebooks of journalists.
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, an outspoken figure in the city’s pro-democracy movement and owner of Apple Daily, is already in jail serving several prison terms. His assets have been seized and he has been in detention since December 2020 while being denied bail under the national security law.
On 28 May, he was sentenced to 14 months in prison for taking part in an anti-government protest in October 2019.
On Thursday, around dawn, the Hong Kong police arrested five executives of the newspaper, and later the police personnel were seen checking computers and other equipment in the newsroom.
The five people were editor-in-chief Ryan Law, chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, chief operating officer Chow Tat-kuen, deputy chief editor Chan Puiman and chief executive editor Cheung Chi-wai.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, called the newsroom a “crime scene” and said the operation was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool to endanger” national security.
“We are talking about a conspiracy in which these suspects try to make use of journalistic work to collude with a foreign country or external element to impose sanctions or take hostile activities against Hong Kong and... China,” said Mr Lee.
The police have also frozen HK$18m (£1.65m) of assets owned by three companies linked to Apple Daily. This is the second instance of Hong Kong police raiding its office, as they had carried out a raid in August 2020 as well.
Hong Kong police’s senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah said Apple Daily published dozens of reports dating back to 2019 that “incited foreign countries to impose sanctions”.
Britain, which ruled Hong Kong until 1997, said the raid showed that China was using a new national security law to target dissent rather than deal with public security.
“Today’s raids and arrests at Apple Daily in Hong Kong demonstrate Beijing is using the National Security Law to target dissenting voices, not tackle public security,” Dominic Raab, UK’s foreign secretary, said.
Though Beijing passed the wide-ranging national security law in June 2020, it appears to permit prosecutors to use actions from before its implementation as evidence of breaches.
Mark Simon, an adviser to Lai who is based outside Hong Kong, told Reuters that Thursday’s raid was “a blatant attack on the editorial side of Apple Daily… They’re arresting the top editorial folks”.
Pictures published by Apple Daily showed police sitting at reporters’ desks and using their computers while chief editor Mr Law was seen walking in handcuffs, flanked by police officers. A person streaming a live feed for Apple Daily’s Facebook page said reporters were prevented from accessing certain floors or getting their equipment or notebooks.
When asked how long he thinks the newspaper can survive, Mr Simon said: “There’s 100 police officers in our newsroom. They decide, not us.”
Lai had met Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, seeking support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, following which Beijing called him a “traitor”.
Under the national security law, the authorities in Hong Kong can take action against any act that might be deemed subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
Additional reporting by agencies
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