500 Police Raid Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Tabloid Office, Arrest 5 of its Leaders

UMMATIMES - Around 500 police on Thursday raided the offices of Hong Kong's pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, confiscated computers and detained its leaders, on charges of violating Hong Kong's National Security Act.

Around Thursday morning, police arrested five Apple Daily executives, and officers were later seen sitting at computers in the newsroom after entering with warrants to confiscate journalistic material, including from journalists' phones and laptops, Reuters reports, June 17, 2021.

Images published by Apple Daily show police sitting at reporters' desks and using their computers. A person who operates the live content of Apple Daily's Facebook page said journalists were barred from accessing certain floors or obtaining their equipment or notebooks.

Police confiscated 38 computers used by his journalists, Apple Daily said.

The five people arrested were Chief Editor Ryan Law, CEO Cheung Kim-hung, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai.

Chief editor Ryan 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 duties outside the building for the time being.

"This is a blatant attack on the editorial side of Apple Daily," Mark Simon, an adviser to Lai based out of Hong Kong, told Reuters. "They caught the top editors."

Asked how long he thought the paper could last, Simon said: "They decide, not us," referring to the authorities.

The raids are the latest blow to media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a tabloid owner and staunch critic of Beijing, whose assets have been frozen under Hong Kong's National Security Act and is serving a prison sentence for taking part in illegal gatherings.

Security Secretary John Lee described the newsroom as a "place of crime" and said the operation was aimed at those who use reporting as a "tool to jeopardize" national security.

He did not specify dozens of articles that police said were targeted, but said the five were arrested for conspiracy to use "journalism" to incite foreign powers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

"Ordinary journalists are different from these people. Don't collude with them," he told reporters.

"Do your journalistic work as freely as you like in accordance with the law, provided you do not conspire or have the intention to violate...national security laws."

Senior inspector Li Kwai-wah said the tabloid report was from 2019, without saying when the most recent was published. The law is not retrospective but prosecutors can use actions from before its implementation as evidence.

Police have also frozen HK$18 million in assets owned by three companies linked to Apple Daily, saying the raids were not aimed at the media industry as a whole.

In a letter to its readers, Apple Daily said it was the victim of "a targeted attack by the regime," but said its staff "will continue to hold fast to their posts faithfully and fight to the end."

This is the second time the national security police have raided Apple Daily headquarters; 200 officers came in last year to arrest Lai on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.

Lai has been detained since December, denied bail under security laws and serving multiple sentences for taking part in several unlawful demonstrations, including during Hong Kong's mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong's National Security Act is Beijing's first major move to put China's most volatile city on an authoritarian path. This law punishes anything Beijing deems to be subversion, separatism, terrorism and collusion with foreign parties up to life imprisonment.

China's Hong Kong Liaison Office said it firmly supported what police described as "fair action".

The move is the latest blow to Apple Daily after authorities last month ordered imprisoned tycoon Lai's stake in Next Digital, the newspaper's publisher, frozen.

"The arrest... under Hong Kong's 'Orwellian' National Security Act shatters any lingering fiction that Hong Kong supports press freedom," said Steven Butler, coordinator director of Asia programs at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to ban the newspaper, which it considers an annoying critic, but only at a high price for the people of Hong Kong, who have enjoyed access to free information for decades," said Butler.

In May, Hong Kong's security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years in prison for any transactions with billionaire accounts in the city.

Apple Daily is a tabloid founded 26 years ago, which mixes pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, and is popular in Hong Kong.