Apple Daily arrests: Hong Kong police say newsroom crime scene as editors and executives brought under national security law

Apple Daily said on Thursday that the company’s CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen and editor-in-chief Ryan Law, as well as associate editor and online editor had all been arrested and accused of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security – a provision of sweeping legislation introduced last year banning sedition, secession and subversion against Beijing.

“This case involves a conspiracy,” Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said at a press conference on Thursday, adding that the raid targeted those who use journalism as “a tool to danger to national security “.

Chief Superintendent Steve Li of the National Security Police Department said Hong Kong $ 18 million ($ 2.3 million) in assets related to the newspaper had been frozen. The assets are held by three companies: Apple Daily, Apple Publishing & AD Internet Limited.

The post broadcast the morning raid live on its Facebook page, showing police asking staff to present proof of identity and preventing them from returning to their offices.

The Hong Kong government confirmed Thursday that it had arrested five “directors of a company” on suspicion of violating national security law and that officers had obtained a search warrant that gave officers the power to seize journalist material.

After the initial raid, Li said the Apple Daily headquarters was now a crime scene and officers confiscated electronic devices, such as cell phones, computers and laptops. In images posted online by Apple Daily, police officers could be seen examining computers in the office.

He said police were investigating Apple Daily for its earlier attempts to “collude with foreign forces and outside elements to endanger national security.” Li said that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

Last year, the deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau of the State Council said the National Security Law, which came into force on June 30, would not be retroactive.

Li also urged the public not to repost the content. “If you have no real reason to share this type of article, I would advise everyone not to,” Li warned.

“The government is raiding Apple Daily because it cannot shut it down under economic pressure,” Mark Simon, managing director of private assets for controversial newspaper founder Jimmy Lai, told CNN Business. “So that means we have 130 cops in our newsroom vacuuming documents.”
The arrests and investigation are the latest step in an escalating crackdown on the provocative, anti-Beijing tabloid, which has emerged as a media freedom star in Hong Kong in what many analysts see as a landscape of increasingly hostile to industry.
Hong Kong fined a journalist for checking a box.  It shows the city's media freedoms are in jeopardy

Media mogul Lai – who for decades has been a symbol of the city’s tensions with mainland China – already faces charges under the National Security Law and is currently serving prison terms for his role in unauthorized gatherings dating from the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

Li said Thursday’s operation was not aimed at the press, but at an individual organization that violated national security law, saying the Hong Kong government values ​​freedom of the press.

Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, said after the Beijing-imposed National Security Law was passed that Hong Kong people should still be able to enjoy freedom of speech and the press. The government has also told CNN Business in the past that it is “firmly committed to protecting and respecting press freedom.”

Lee, the security secretary, sought to allay concerns about press freedom in the city on Thursday, saying the investigation was aimed at actions that were “not normal journalistic work.”

“Please understand that our actions are not aimed at journalistic work,” he added. “We are targeting authors who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”

Freedom of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. But experts have expressed concern over the use of the national security law, and there have been indications of pressure on other media outlets in the city. Earlier this year, an independent producer working with public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) was convicted and fined for violating a traffic order – a convoluted charge linked to her reporting on at most one crucial event. strong protests of 2019.

A recent ranking of press freedoms around the world indicates that the environment in Hong Kong has deteriorated. The international watchdog Reporters Without Borders – which qualifies these freedoms on the basis of data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists as well as a questionnaire sent to experts – ranked Hong Kong 80 out of 180 countries for freedom of the press, compared to 18 out of 138 in 2002.

– Jenni Marsh, Karina Tsui and Julia Hollingsworth contributed to this report.

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