HONG KONG – Hong Kong democracy supporters rushed to buy copies of the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Friday, citing anger over a police raid on the organization’s newsroom as part of an investigation into whether some articles threatened the China’s national security.
The popular 26-year-old newspaper, which combines pro-democracy speech with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, increased its press circulation on Friday to 500,000 copies, up from 80,000 the day before.
During the morning commute, some kiosks in central Hong Kong posted announcements that Apple Daily had sold out. One booth displayed an image of the newspaper’s logo with the words “Support press freedom” underneath.
One reader, Tsang, who only gave his last name due to the delicacy of the matter, bought his copy at midnight, as soon as it was delivered by the printer.
“You never know when this newspaper will die,” Tsang said. “As Hong Kong people, we must preserve history. Hold on as long as we can. Although the road is bumpy, we still have to travel it, as there is no other way. “
Tam, a 40-year-old banker, said Friday morning that he had bought his first newspaper in 20 years after learning of the raid.
“I do not intend to do anything with the newspaper in hand. It’s just because of my conscience, ”he said.
Police arrested five executives, including the Apple Daily editor-in-chief, early Thursday morning and froze HK $ 18 million ($ 2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to the newspaper before cordoning off the building.
It was the second time police raided the newsroom after the arrest last year of media mogul Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist and staunch critic of Beijing who owns Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.
The newspaper published a similar number after Lai’s arrest in August 2020.
The front page of the Apple Daily reported on the raid, which involved 500 officers, saying that police had seized 44 hard drives as evidence.
On Thursday night in the Apple Daily newsroom, Ng, a photojournalist who gave only his last name, said the raid was “really a pathetic moment for Hong Kong.”
“If we cannot survive, there will be no more freedom of the press,” Ng said while working.
It was the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020 after nearly a year of massive pro-democracy protests.
The European Union and Britain said the raid showed that China was using the law to suppress dissent rather than address public safety. The United States said the “selective” use of the law “arbitrarily” targeted independent media.
The World News Publishers Association (WAN-IFRA) and the World Publishers Forum called in a joint statement for the immediate release of Apple Daily staff and the unfreezing of the company’s assets.
“National security law is being deliberately used to stifle critical opinion and target dissenters,” said WAN-IFRA Executive Director of Press Freedom Andrew Heslop.
“The authorities are sowing fear and censoring the media that exercise their right to freedom of the press. China’s attempts to impose authoritarian rule over the Hong Kong media cannot and will not go unopposed, ”Heslop added.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that freedom of the press and other rights were intact, but national security was a red line.
In a statement Thursday, the Next Media staff union promised to keep reporting.
“As difficult as the current circumstances are, we will continue our work with the goal of publishing our articles normally,” he said. (Reporting by Jessie Pang, Sara Cheng, Sharon Abratique, Joyce Zhou, and Donny Kwok; written by Marius Zaharia. Edited by Gerry Doyle)