Hong Kong police are again targeting the city’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily by arresting its chief editor and four other executives in early morning raids on Thursday. They were all taken into custody on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers, as authorities continue their campaign of clamping down on all forms of dissent.
In a statement, the police force confirmed that officers from the city’s national security department had arrested four men and a woman for violating the national security law, and searches had been conducted at their homes.
Apple Daily quickly said its CEO Cheung Kim-hung, COO Royston Chow, Chief Editor Ryan Law, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Platform Director of Apple Daily Digital Cheung Chi-wai had all been taken away by police.
It also said hundreds of police raided the publication’s headquarters later that same morning, with the force making it clear in its search warrant that officers have the power to seize journalistic materials under the powers granted by the security law.
In a media briefing, a police spokesman said officers are looking into digital materials and articles that had apparently called for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials in the wake of the city’s unrest in 2019.
“We found that so far…over 30 pieces of articles requested the foreign countries or institutions to impose sanctions to the Hong Kong and People’s Republic of China. [They are] in English and in Chinese as well,”said Senior Superintendent Steve Li.
He said the five arrestees are all affiliated with the newspaper, adding that with some of them being editors, they played an important role in the publishing of the articles.
Hong Kong’s security minister, John Lee, meanwhile said HK$18 million worth of the company’s assets have been frozen due to the ongoing investigation.
The senior official was asked in a press conference if the action against Apple Daily is effectively barring the pro-democracy newspaper from running altogether, he stressed that authorities work in accordance with the law and evidence, but any possible actions considered to be “endangering national security is a very serious crime.”
The raid on Apple Daily’s headquarters is the second in less than a year. The company’s headquarters were searched in August 2020 following the arrest of the newspaper’s founder Jimmy Lai.
Lai, 73, is also facing the same collusion charge but is still yet to stand trial, although he’s already serving a jail sentence for taking part in an illegal assembly.
The move is widely seen to be part of an increasing clampdown on Apple Daily, which has been a vocal critic of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments since its establishment in 1995.
Trading in shares of Next Digital, the owner of Apple Daily, had been halted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange before the market opened on Thursday.
Almost one year after the controversial national security law took effect in Hong Kong, critics point to mounting evidence that the sweeping legislation stifles the freedom of speech and other rights that were guaranteed to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.