HONG KONG – Hong Kong police arrested five executives of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday with a warrant for the seizure of newspaper material for the first time, in the latest hit on Jimmy Lai, the tabloid owner and a staunch critic of Beijing.
The order, which police say was aimed at gathering evidence for a case related to the national security law that Beijing imposed last year, raises further concerns about media freedom in the Chinese-ruled city.
“This is a blatant attack on the editorial side of Apple Daily. They are arresting editors, “Mark Simon, a Lai adviser outside Hong Kong, told Reuters.” They are arresting top editors. “
It was the second time that the police raided the headquarters of the Apple Daily; 200 officers entered last year to arrest Lai on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces.
Lai has been in detention since December, denied bail under security law, and served multiple sentences for participating in unauthorized assemblies, including during the world’s financial center’s massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The security law was Beijing’s first major move to put China’s most restless city on an authoritarian path. It punishes everything that Beijing considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life imprisonment.
The national security police said in a statement that five directors of a company had been arrested on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.
Police said officers searched a media company in Tseung Kwan O district with a court order covering “the power to search and seize journalistic material.”
The operation was ongoing and aimed to gather evidence for a case related to an alleged breach of the security law.
He only said the five included four men and one woman between the ages of 47 and 63. He did not provide any other details.
Apple Daily said five of its directors, including editor-in-chief Ryan Law, chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, chief operating officer Chow Tat-kuen, deputy editor-in-chief Chan Puiman, and executive editor-in-chief Cheung Chi- wai, they had been arrested. in morning raids.
The newspaper said that around 7:30 am local time about 100 officers arrived at its headquarters and cordoned off the area.
Images released by Apple Daily showed police sitting at reporters’ desks and using their computers. A person streaming a live feed for the Apple Daily Facebook page said reporters were prevented from accessing certain floors or obtaining their computers or laptops.
Editor-in-chief Law was seen walking in handcuffs, flanked by police officers. Apple Daily’s general news desk told reporters in a text message seen by Reuters to continue their assignments outside the building for the time being.
The move is the latest blow to Apple Daily after authorities last month ordered jailed mogul Lai’s shares to be frozen at Next Digital, the newspaper’s publisher.
Trading in the company’s shares in the Hong Kong field was suspended on Thursday.
When asked how long he thinks the newspaper can survive, Simon said: “It’s not up to us. It’s up to you. There are 100 police officers in our newsroom. They decide, not us. “
Apple Daily is an unapologetic tabloid that mixes pro-democracy speech with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power and popular in Hong Kong.
In May, Reuters reported that Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and the HSBC and Citibank branches threatening up to seven years in jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.
Lai’s assets were also frozen under the same law. (Reporting by Sharon Tam, Donny Kwok, Sharon Abratique and Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Edited by Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)