HONG KONG – Hong Kong police arrested five executives of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday, and for the first time under a new national security law had a warrant for the seizure of journalistic material, causing shudders in the city’s media. .
It was also the first time that the police said that the media articles could have violated the security law that Beijing imposed last year.
The raid of 500 officers was the latest blow to media mogul Jimmy Lai, owner of the tabloid and a staunch critic of Beijing, whose assets have been seized under security law and who is serving prison terms for participating in meetings. illegal.
Police said the order was aimed at collecting evidence, including from reporters’ phones and computers, raising alarms about media freedom.
Police said the tabloid published dozens of reports dating back to 2019 that may have violated security law, without saying when the most recent articles were in question. The legislation is not retrospective, but prosecutors can use actions prior to its implementation as evidence.
“The nature of the articles is very simple: incite, request foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. Very simple, ”Chief Superintendent Li Kwai-wah told reporters outside the newspaper’s headquarters.
Li said police have also frozen HK $ 18 million ($ 2.32 million) in assets owned by three companies linked to Apple Daily and that the raid was not targeting the media industry as a whole.
“This is a blatant attack on the editorial side of the Apple Daily,” Mark Simon, a Lai adviser out of Hong Kong, told Reuters. “They are arresting the main 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 some unauthorized demonstrations, including during the global 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. The Hong Kong police do not name the detainees.
Apple Daily said editor-in-chief Ryan Law, chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, chief operating officer Chow Tat-kuen, deputy editor-in-chief Chan Puiman and chief executive officer Cheung Chi-wai had been arrested in morning raids.
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 the building was cordoned off and journalists 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. The general news desk of the Apple Daily newspaper 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, Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Edited by Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)