Hong Kong police used a controversial new law to arrest five editors and executives of a pro-democracy newspaper Thursday — accusing them of “collusion with a foreign country” to “endanger national security.”
At least 500 officers descended at 7:30 a.m. Thursday for the raid on Apple Daily, whose founder, Jimmy Lai, has already been jailed under the same Beijing-imposed national security law, the paper said.
Officers blocked all the entrances and barred reporters from filming the raid, confiscating at least 38 computers containing “considerable” journalistic material, the paper said.
In a letter to readers, Apple Daily said it was “speechless” at the “unprecedented crackdown by the regime, which will go down in history.”
“It feels as though we are powerless to stop the regime from exercising its power as it pleases,” the letter read.
Those arrested included chief editor Ryan Law and its digital platform director, Cheung Chi-wai, the paper said.
CEO Cheung Kim-hung, COO Royston Chow and associate publisher Chan Pui-man were also arrested, with their homes raided at the same time as the offices, the paper said.
They are accused of breaking the controversial law, which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” the paper said.
Apple Daily was accused of publishing at least 30 articles — both online and in print — that were part of a “conspiracy” to make use of “journalistic work” to bring Western sanctions on Hong Kong, officials said in a series of press conferences.
“The questionable articles play a very crucial part in the conspiracy,” Steve Li, senior superintendent of the national security unit, told a press conference — without identifying the pieces in question.
Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee told a news conference that Apple Daily used “journalism as a tool to endanger national security” and an “umbrella” to protect itself.
He warned that anyone working with the “perpetrators” would “pay a hefty price,” saying, “Distance yourself from them, otherwise all you will be left with are regrets.”
The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong said it supported the police action. “Freedom of the press is not a ‘shield’ for illegal activities,” the office said in a statement.
Trading in shares of Apple Daily’s publisher, Next Digital, was halted Thursday morning at the request of the company, according to filings with the Hong Kong stock exchange.
The paper’s founder, Lai, is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence after being convicted of playing a role in massive anti-government demonstrations against a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to stand trial in China.
Before his arrest Thursday, Law — who became Apple Daily’s editor in chief in 2018 — said publicly he would not quit despite the risks.
The rest of his staff is still “standing firm,” the paper said in its letter to readers Thursday.
“Though we are facing a sweeping clampdown on our publication, the staff of Apple Daily will hold fast to our duties faithfully and press on till the end to see the arrival of dawn,” it said.