Hong Kong’s national security police arrested the editor-in-chief and four other directors of the Apple Daily newspaper in an early Thursday morning raid that involved 500 officers. The arrest came over their role in the publication of articles authorities allege to be part of a conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.
The arrest follows China’s enforcement of its national security law, which has seen a crackdown on pro-democracy activists since its implementation last year. Last August, the Hong Kong government arrested media magnate Jimmy Lai.
The city’s security chief, John Lee, accused those arrested of using “journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security,” and issued a chilling warning to residents and other members of the media.
“Normal journalists are different from these people,” Lee said. “Please keep a distance from them.”
The Guardian reports:
The police force’s national security department released a statement saying the five had been arrested on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country, or with external elements to endanger national security, through articles which police said called for sanctions to be imposed on Hong Kong and mainland China.
Police also searched Apple Daily’s newsroom and its offices, saying the warrant covered “the power of searching and seizure of journalistic materials”. “The operation, still ongoing, aims at gathering evidence for a case of suspected contravention of the national security law,” it said.
Those arrested were named by Apple Daily as editor-in-chief, Ryan Law; the chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung; the chief operating officer, Chow Tat-kuen; the deputy chief editor, Chan Puiman; and the chief executive editor, Cheung Chi-wai.
Police also froze HK$18m (US $2.3m) in assets of three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited. Parent company, Next Digital, announced the suspension of trading in its shares before markets opened on Thursday.
The police operation is a significant escalation in the government’s moves to stifle Hong Kong’s press, of which the pro-democracy tabloid was widely considered to be a primary target.
The head of the police’s national security division, senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said there was “very strong evidence that the questionable articles played a very crucial part in the conspiracy, which provided ammunition for foreign countries, institutions, and organizations to impose sanctions”, noting that those arrested have “a very important role” in their publication.