Over 100 police officers raided the Tseung Kwan O offices of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Monday morning.
Live streams showed officers lining up staff members to check their identities after entering at around 9:45am, whilst other officers went desk-to-desk.
According to a police Facebook post, the force entered the building with a court warrant on Monday morning to investigate crimes endangering national security: “Police already showed the court warrant to staff members inside the building and explained the content of the warrant. [Officers] asked people inside the building to cooperate with police in carrying out the warrant.”
The raid comes hours after Jimmy Lai – the founder of Next Digital, which owns the tabloid – was arrested in his home on Monday morning. He was detained for allegedly “colluding” with foreign forces – a crime under the new national security law.
Lai himself was seen in live footage being guided through the office with police with his hands secured behind his back.
Senior superintendent of the national security department Steve Li told reporters outside the building that officers had conducted an initial review to see which departments or units of the newspaper firm they were entitled to search under the warrant.
He said the force would refrain from searching departments that handle news and journalistic materials.
However, footage showed police flipping through items on staff members’ desks.
Li did not present the warrant to reporters but said it was placed inside the company’s building for legal representatives to check: “I can say our search process has been smooth so far. We hope to complete it as soon as possible and not disturb the operation of this media company.”
‘Attack on press freedom’
The Democratic Party criticised the raid, saying the government is tightening freedom of the press on a large scale: “It is the first time the government arrested members of the press under the national security law. They raided offices of a news outlet and created a deterrent effect among the industry. Press freedom and freedom of speech promised in the Basic Law is precarious.”
The head of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism department also said the raid was an “outrageous, shameful attack on press freedom.”
“With police raiding a newsroom and a handcuffed editor doing a perp walk, I would say HK as we knew it is already unrecognizable. These scenes are shocking. And shameful,” he tweeted.
Earlier, police said seven arrests were made in all on Monday, as local media reported that Lai’s sons and other top Apple Daily executives were detained.
In June, Beijing enacted laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviour in Hong Kong that it deemed a threat to national security. The legislation was inserted into the city’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and inference with transportation and other infrastructure. The move – which gave police sweeping new powers – alarmed democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.
Additional reporting: Kelly Ho.