Hong Kong police raid offices of pro-democracy paper, make arrests

Apple Daily says it has been left'speechless by the government's warning for people to cut ties with the newspaper. Image Shutterstock

Hong Kong's secretary for security, John Lee, said Thursday's arrests and raid are "not related to normal journalistic work".

Five hundred Hong Kong police officers sifted through reporters' computers and notebooks at the daily, the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law.

Police did not name those arrested but confirmed that the five people, aged between 47 and 63, were arrested for "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security".

Those arrested include Next Digital Chief Executive Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow, as well as Ryan Law, Apple's chief editor.

They said stories published by the newspaper had been used to help persuade foreign forces to place sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

Hong Kong's stock exchange said trading in shares of Next Digital - the publisher of the newspaper - had been halted. "Efforts to stifle media freedom and to restrict the free flow of information not only undermine Hong Kong's democratic institutions but they also hurt Hong Kong's credibility and viability as an worldwide hub".

In August 2020, the police raided the headquarters of Apple Daily for the first time who could be seen looking through piles of materials and papers including on journalists' desks and 44 harddisks were confiscated by the police for further investigations in yesterday's raid.

"It is essential that all the existing rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are fully protected, including freedom of the press and of publication".

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), in a tweet, called on President Joe Biden and democracies to condemn "this disgusting attack on the free press" and hold the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accountable. Sen.

Next Digital and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is now in prison and on trial for alleged violations of the National Security Law, as CPJ has documented. Convictions can result in life in prison.

Thursday's raid was the second on Apple Daily in less than a year.

What is the national security law?

The paper is owned by Jimmy Lai, who is in jail on a string of charges.

The newspaper's owner, Jimmy Lai, is now serving a 20-month prison sentence after being found guilty of taking part in unapproved pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR later voiced firm support for the police's law enforcement action. It is unclear whether Apple Daily will now be able to pay its staff. The law has been used to arrest over 100 pro-democracy activists since it was first implemented in June past year, and had virtually silenced opposition voices in the city, with many others fleeing overseas. Scores of others have fled overseas.

Critics, including many Western nations, say it has been the final nail in the coffin for the "One Country, Two Systems" promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain liberties after its 1997 handover to China by the British.

Speaking with AFP last month, chief editor Law admitted the paper was in "crisis" since Lai's jailing but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing.