Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers raided the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday and arrested five senior executives on suspicion of violating the national security law by publishing articles which called for sanctions on Beijing or the city.
It was the second time in 10 months that the newspaper, founded by Jimmy Lai, had been raided. Police said the warrant used on Thursday was issued under the security legislation, and gave them power to search for and seize journalistic material.
Lai, 73, who was arrested during the first raid last August, is serving 20 months in prison for protest-related offences and also faces charges under the Beijing-imposed security law, which provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment.
Police said four men and one woman – aged 47 to 63 – were apprehended for allegedly colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. At least two of them were handcuffed.
According to local media, those arrested included Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow, Apple Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Cheung Chi-wai, who manages the newspaper’s online news platform. All were arrested in the early hours at their homes.
National Security Unit Senior Superintendent Steve Li said the operation was launched at 6 a.m. and involved around 500 officers. He said HK$18 million worth of assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily had been frozen.
Li said the alleged offence involved around 30 Chinese and English Apple Daily articles published since 2019. He said the articles were “strong evidence” and the “focus” of an alleged conspiracy of asking foreign powers to impose sanctions on China or Hong Kong.
Asked whether the articles in question were news articles or opinion pieces, Li did not give a direct response: “The natures of the articles is very simple, just inciting, requesting the foreign country to impose sanctions to Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. Very straightforward.”
Asked whether citizens would risk violating the security law by sharing such articles, Li said police would have to look at the intention. “But as a law enforcer, I have some advice for people – do not draw suspicion to yourself, if it is not something you wish to spread.”
Police said the five arrested senior executives are being detained for investigation. The tabloid’s chief editor Law was seen being escorted by police to the newspaper’s office at around 9.30 am.
Next Digital chief executive Cheung Kim-hung arrived in the Tseung Kwan O office in handcuffs at around 10 am.
Police broke into his flat in the early hours, according to StandNews.
Lawyer Barry Hoy was seen outside the Apple Daily office in Tseung Kwan O. He entered the building shortly after Cheung was brought inside.
Police said their operation was not targeting the press, adding the force “had no choice” but to enforce the law inside a media company.
Office raided again
“The operation, still ongoing, aims at gathering evidence for a case of suspected contravention of the National Security Law,” a police statement read.
According to Apple Daily, some police officers accessed reporters’ computers and searched for information. Journalists were told to leave the editorial department and wait elsewhere. They could not move around freely inside the building.
Some officers stopped reporters from filming the search, the newspaper said.
Reporters were told by editorial management to carry on with their work assignments today, a senior reporter told HKFP.
Next Digital suspended trading before the market opened, according to a stock exchange notice.
Lai was arrested last August for alleged collusion with foreign forces and conspiracy to defraud. Over 200 police entered the newspaper’s headquarters on that occasion and seized at least 30 boxes of evidence.
The media mogul later faced an additional charge in April for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign powers. He was said to have connived with his top aide Mark Simon, activist Andy Li, legal assistant Chan Tsz-wah and self-exiled activist Finn Lau. He also stands accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by allegedly helping activist Li flee Hong Kong.
Lai is set to stand trial in the city’s High Court, where the maximum penalty is life in prison. He is currently serving 20 months behind bars for three unauthorised 2019 protests.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
More to follow.