A Hong Kong court has denied bail to two executives of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily after they were charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law for allegedly colluding with a foreign country or external forces.
Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Apple Daily Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in front of Chief Magistrate Victor So on Saturday. The pair were arrested on Thursday and were remanded in custody.
Cheung and Law – along with Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited – are accused of conspiring with the founder of Next Digital and Apple Daily Jimmy Lai in calling on foreign countries or external forces to impose sanctions or blockages, or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong and China, between July 1, 2020 and April 3 this year.
Cheung’s representative Senior Counsel Derek Chan suggested to the court that Cheung could provide a cash bail of HK$3 million and a surety of HK$500,000, and that Cheung would quit all roles in Next Digital, and not be involved in anyway with the operation of the company.
He added that Cheung agreed to not make any direct or indirect contact with foreign officials, and would not take any interviews or make any public speech on any platforms.
Law’s representative S.W. Lee said that Law could provide a cash bail of HK$100,000 to HK$200,000, and a surety of HK$100,000. He also agreed to remain at home, and said that Law would quit as the editor-in-chief and director of Apple Daily and Apple Daily Printing Limited.
However, bail was denied. Owing to court reporting restrictions, HKFP cannot report on the reasoning given by the judge.
Aside from Cheung and Law, the three other Next Digital and Apple Daily executives arrested were Next Digital Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow, Apple Daily Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Nick Cheung, who manages the newspaper’s online news platform. They were granted bail on Friday evening.
The headquarters of pro-democracy tabloid in Tseung Kwan O were raided on Thursday as part of an operation involving about 500 police officers. According to the prosecution, over 40 computers and 16 servers were seized, pending investigation.
Close to a hundred people queued up outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building to attend the hearing on Saturday morning. Some people were seen holding or reading a copy of the Apple Daily.
Mr. Fung, who works in the English news section of the paper, was one of the dozens of people queuing up outside court. He told HKFP that he thought the arrests and charges were “unfair.”
“Because they are charging the company as well… it’s difficult to tell what kind of restraints we’ll get. So we’re still estimating what’s the effect,” said Fung. “Well we’ll carry on, but it’s getting increasingly difficult and risky.”
Edward Chin, a commentator with D100 Radio and a hedge fund manager, said outside court that he could not see a check and balance in the administration of the city: “I think first of all this crackdown on Next Media, Apple Daily, Next Magazine has already provided a chilling effect not just to the practitioners at Next Media, but it’s also a chilling effect to Hong Kong in general.”
“When the officials, when they appear in the media… the narrative is basically scaring people not to subscribe to the newspaper, whether you share anything from Apple Daily,” said Chin.
“They want to give you an idea of this vagueness, it’s a political crackdown, and it’s also playing some sort of a psychological warfare, and shame on them if this is the way they want to see Hong Kong become.”
“So I guess Hong Kong people should speak up to the truth and uphold the genuine ‘one country, two systems’,” Chin said.
Activist “Grandma Wong” was also present at the scene. She was dragged way from the court area by police officers when the hearing was adjourned.
On Thursday, Beijing’s office in Hong Kong said it “resolutely supported” the arrests and the freezing of HK$18 million in assets of three companies linked to the publication: “Hong Kong is a rule of law society, everyone is equal before the law… press freedom is not a ‘shield’ for illegal behaviour.”