Two Apple Daily executives arrested last week on suspicion of endangering national security have sought a court order for Hong Kong police to return journalistic and privileged legal material which was seized during their arrest and in a raid on the newspaper.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The pro-democracy newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and video director Nick Cheung filed to the High Court on Wednesday, Ming Pao reported. Law was remanded in custody after being charged with conspiracy to collude with foreign forces in connection with articles the newspaper had published, while Cheung was granted bail.

According to a document filed to the court, police obtained two warrants from West Kowloon Magistrates Court pursuant to the national security law and the Police Force Ordinance to seize data stored at the two defendants’ homes and the newspaper’s headquarters.

Dozens of Hong Kong police enter Apple Daily’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O on June 17, 2021.

They asked the court to allow the inspection of the seized documents to determine if any are legally privileged or are journalistic material. The application asks that such material — or any other information seized in an overreach of the power granted by the warrants — be returned.

The pair also ask the court to assess damages for the police trespassing and any wrongful seizure.

State media reaction

Some 500 police arrested five executives including Law and Cheung on June 17 and raided the Apple Daily offices, seizing dozens of computers and boxes of documents. Authorities also froze HK$18 million in company assets. The paper was officially shut down on Wednesday after executives failed to secure the unfreezing of the assets and after another person, an editorial writer, was arrested on security charges.

Western governments and rights groups have strongly criticised the operation. But the demise of a newspaper staunchly critical of China was celebrated by pro-Beijing media, including state-owned Wen Wei Po and its English-language website Dot Dot News, which for years have been hostile to Apple Daily and its founder Jimmy Lai.

Wen Wei Po’s headline on Thursday, June 24. Photo: Wen Wei Po screenshot.

“Committing all bad deeds possible has brought itself to demise; Next Digital shuts down for good,” reads Wen Wei Po’s front page headline on Thursday, referring to the paper’s parent company. The newspaper cited pro-establishment lawmakers as saying that the shutdown would allow the city to resume normalcy and heal divisions.

Apple Daily was not a news organisation but a tool for Jimmy Lai to serve western powers such as the US, with the long-term goal of subverting China and causing chaos in Hong Kong, Wen We Po cited DAB lawmaker Elisabeth Quat as saying. “The newspaper’s smears and fake news have divided Hong Kong society and caused several generations of Hongkongers to misunderstand the country,” she was quoted as saying.

Dot Dot News cited a Hong Kong lawyer who compared the Apple Daily raid to when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sydney office was searched by police. “Even in the west like in Australia, the [law] enforcement agency like the police would still conduct a search according to the law,” the lawyer Li Kin-ho said.

Sold at a premium

Throughout Thursday morning and afternoon queues were spotted at newsstands across the city, with Hongkongers keen to get their hands on a copy of Apple Daily’s final edition. The newspaper printed one million copies, many times more than its normal print run.

Photo: Carousell screenshot.

Users of an online selling platform were offering to sell copies of the final edition at as much as HK$1,000.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.