Police arrest editor in chief of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper

Ryan Law and four executives at pro-democracy outlet detained in morning raids

Police officers leave the Apple Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Police officers leave the Apple Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

 

Hong Kong police have arrested senior editors and executives of a newspaper belonging to pro-democracy mogul Jimmy Lai in the first use of the territory’s national security law directly against journalists.

At least 500 officers were involved in the Thursday morning raid on Apple Daily, a popular tabloid known for its willingness to confront and criticise the government. Police instructed reporters to register their identities and prevented them from filming the raid or going to their desks. The journalists were told to gather in a separate part of the building because their workplace was part of a “crime scene”.

The police said they were gathering “evidence for a case of suspected contravention of the National Security Law” and used a warrant to search for and seize journalistic materials.

China introduced the harsh law almost a year ago to quell dissent after Hong Kong’s anti-government protests in 2019.

The law has paved the way for a crackdown on the city’s civic freedoms, with mass arrests of political activists and the targeting of anyone seen as disloyal to Beijing, such as schoolteachers and judges.

The arrests were not the first move against the media under the clampdown, but they were the first time the authorities have cited the security law in an action against journalists.

The law, which punishes crimes such as subversion and collusion with foreign elements, carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Mr Lai has already been jailed in a separate case and his assets have been frozen, including his 71 per cent shareholding in Next Media, the company that owns Apple Daily.

Those arrested included Ryan Law, Apple Daily’s chief editor and Nick Cheung, an online editor, according to the newspaper. Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive of Next Digital, Royston Chow, chief operating officer, and Chan Pui-man, an associate publisher, were also detained.

Press freedom

Police said they had made the arrests for “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”.

Apple Daily was accused of involvement in a conspiracy to encourage foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong by publishing articles that encouraged such a move, police added.

The company said the raid left press freedom in Hong Kong “hanging by a thread” but asserted the newspaper would “hold fast to our duties”.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, said the actions had nothing to do with normal journalistic practices. “They are different from ordinary journalists, do not engage in any relations with them and keep a distance from them,” he said.

“This action isn’t targeting the media but an organisation that violated the national security law,” said Steve Li, a senior police superintendent.

Critics say the security law has degraded rights such as freedom of expression that Hong Kongers were promised when China took possession of the territory from the UK in 1997.

Hong Kong’s police chief Chris Tang has previously called for “fake news” laws that journalists fear would hand authorities greater powers to police the media.

He singled out Apple Daily as a possible target of further police action. The newspaper was raided last year.

One journalist at Next Media said employees were “mentally prepared” for senior editors to be arrested but were shocked by the scale of the raid. “It’s completely overriding the freedom of the press,” they said.

“I am really worried for Hong Kong people if Apple Daily is lost ... Other newspapers will be too afraid to report on sensitive topics.”

Next Digital announced a share trading halt on Thursday. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021