Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily continued its operations and printed 500,000 copies of Friday’s paper after its headquarters were raided by the police and five senior executives were arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law.
The tabloid said that at least 44 computers and hard disks were seized by police during Thursday’s operation involving 500 officers.
However, it had vowed to “press on” in an open letter to its readers.
HKFP witnessed the paper being finalised and going to print late on Thursday.
Executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, dressed in a black polo shirt with a black mask, edited copies of the paper as other staff members rushed to make final changes.
The paper’s vast Tseung Kwan O office was mostly empty except for two dozens editorial staff and journalists from other media outlets covering the printing process.
Pro-democracy paraphilia remained strewn around desks, and protest posters and placards adorned the walls.
Lam said that he was advised by lawyers not to give any further comment to the press.
The final version of Friday’s paper was completed at around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, as the deafeningly loud printing presses in the bowels of the industrial building whirred into action.
The headline included a message from the chief executive officer of Next Digital Cheung Kim-hung, telling Apple Daily staff “you all have to hang in there!”
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.
National Security Unit Senior Superintendent Steve Li said HK$18 million worth of assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily had been frozen. He Li said the alleged offence involved around 30 Chinese and English articles published since 2019, which amounted to a “conspiracy” of asking foreign powers to impose sanctions on China or Hong Kong. Beijing welcomed the arrests, as press freedom watchdogs raised the alarm.
Hongkongers queue overnight
The first batch of the newspaper arrived in Mong Kok at around 12:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
Around a dozen of people queued up at a time to buy copies of the newspaper, many brought more than one copy.
Chiu, owner of a news stand in Mong Kok, said that he ordered 1,800 copies of the newspaper for Friday. The copies were all sold out by 2 a.m., one and a half hour after sales began.
“I have ordered more, I wanted 5,000 more copies, but they could only guarantee 3,000,” said Chiu, who only gave his first name.
Mr. Tsang, who drove from To Kwa Wan to buy copies of paper, said he went in early morning as he didn’t know when the newspaper might stop printing altogether.
“I think as Hongkongers, we should keep these history well,” said Tsang. “I bought these to give to those who couldn’t get a copy, I believe that it’ll be sold out by dawn.”
Ms. Liu, who drove for 30-minutes from New Territories to reach the news booth, told HKFP that she bought five copies of the newspaper to keep and share with her friends. She added that she was it would be sold out by morning.
“This is beyond one’s imagination how Hong Kong police can raid a media [outlet] – a free media – and arrest the directors, freeze their assets – they just want to put them out of business, out of no reason, this is not acceptable at all,” said Liu.
“I really think that all the people that remain at Apple Daily…they’re courageous, and I know that their family may be very worried about their job, but they still insist to stay and publish the newspaper. I really appreciate [that], and it’s my absolute salute to them.”
Another supporter of the pro-democracy tabloid, Joyce, told HKFP that she wanted to buy the paper specifically from a news stand as she believed that it would help with the paper’s financial situation after police froze some of their assets.
“The news booths pay [Apple Daily] in cash, whereas in a convenience store, they pay via bank transfer, and I want to avoid that,” said Joyce, referring to local media reports that the police requested seven banks to stop handling the assets of the three companies related to the paper.
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s security chief John Lee accused Apple Daily of using journalism as a tool to endanger national security and warned fellow journalists to shun five arrested executives. Meanwhile, the Next Media Trade Union condemned the raid: “[T]hey can treat editorial staff as criminals, journalistic work as crimes, and the newsroom as a crime scene… This is a blatant violation of freedom of the press in the name of national security.”