Hong Kong police arrested five Apple Daily executives

Five editors and executives of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media Apple Daily were arrested by police Thursday under Hong Kong’s national security laws. Next Media’s stock was suspended and police are searching its offices. The move has raised concerns about the future of Hong Kong media.

The Apple Daily is known for its strong pro-democracy stance and is often outspoken in its criticism of the Beijing authorities and the Hong Kong government’s encroachment on the city’s freedoms.

A news release from the Hong Kong Police Department said police arrested five directors of a media organization on suspicion of “conspiracy to collaborate with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security” in violation of Article 29 of Hong Kong’s national security law.

The four men and one woman, aged 47 to 63, were arrested on suspicion of “endangering national security by foreign or external factors,” the statement said, without disclosing the names of those arrested.

According to Hong Kong media reports, those arrested are Lo Wai-kwong, editor-in-chief of Apple Daily; Cheung Chi-wai, director of Apple Action News Platform; Chan Pui-man, vice president of the newspaper; Cheung Kin-hung, chief executive of Apple Daily’s parent company Next Media Group; and Chow Tat-kuen, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Next Media Group.

Speaking to the media, Senior Superintendent Lee Kwai-wah of the Hong Kong Police National Security Branch said police launched an operation at 6 a.m. Thursday in multiple districts, deploying more than 500 officers in total. He said the operation was in response to Apple Daily’s alleged conspiracy to have others ask foreign agencies or individuals to impose sanctions on the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong SAR.

Li Guihua said that since 2019 so far by more than 30 articles calling for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong. Police also froze HK$18 million (about $2.32 million) in assets of three Apple Daily affiliates, Li Guihua said

Reuters reported that 500 Hong Kong police officers carefully examined the journalists’ computers and laptops. The report said it was the first case in Hong Kong in which authorities said media reports allegedly violated national security laws.

According to the Associated Press, more than 200 police officers were involved in the search of Apple Daily’s offices. Police said the warrant gave police “the authority to search for, among other things, journalistic materials.” But police did not say what items were seized.

Next Digital Ltd. shares were suspended from trading on Thursday morning (June 17), the Associated Press said, citing a notice from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, but did not give a reason for the suspension.

When Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing authorities promised that Hong Kong’s freedom and rule of law would remain intact for 50 years.

But in recent years, Beijing authorities have tightened their grip on Hong Kong, pushing through a Hong Kong national security law after protests that lasted for months in 2019. Since the law was first implemented last June, Hong Kong police have arrested 112 people under it, 57 of whom have been charged under the national security law, according to figures cited by the New York Times report.

The arrest of the newspaper’s editor has also raised concerns about the future of press freedom in Hong Kong. This is the second time that Hong Kong police have taken action against Apple Daily since the implementation of Hong Kong’s national security law. Last year police arrested the newspaper’s founder, Lai Chi-ying, and several Next Media executives on suspicion of violating national security laws and fraud charges.

In 2019, Lai Chi-ying was sentenced to 20 months in jail for participating in an unauthorized rally during massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Last month, authorities froze Lai Chi-ying’s assets and shares in Next Media.

Comments on this action by Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security and a member of the Security Council, further raised concerns about the future of Hong Kong’s media. Li described the editorial office of Apple Daily as a “crime scene. He said the police operation was aimed at those who “use reporting as a tool to endanger national security.

The Reuters report quoted Li as saying the five executives had been arrested for “conspiring to use journalism to incite foreign powers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.” But Li did not identify which articles were among the dozens that police said called for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

In a written statement issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Steven Butler, coordinator of the CPJ’s Asia program, said, “Today, five executives of the pro-democracy Apple Daily were arrested under Hong Kong’s Orwellian national security laws. This destroys any lingering illusion of support for press freedom in Hong Kong.”

Apple Daily has taken a long-standing critical stance against China’s sole ruling party, the Communist Party. The newspaper has been banned by the Chinese government in mainland China, and journalists have been restricted from traveling to mainland China.

In a statement, Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists said, “China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to destroy the newspaper it sees as an annoying critic, but only if the people of Hong Kong, who have enjoyed freedom of access to information for decades, pay a high price.”