Hong Kong National Security Law: Police detained Apple Daily 5 executives to search the headquarters

The National Security Division of the Hong Kong Police Force conducted another large-scale search of Next Media Group’s headquarters and the Apple Daily newspaper, and arrested five senior executives of the newspaper, including Apple Daily editor-in-chief Lo Wai-kwong, on suspicion of “conspiracy to collaborate with foreign or overseas forces to endanger national security,” and froze the assets of three of the newspaper’s affiliated companies for a total of HK$18 million (US$2.23 million; RMB 14.88 million). The arrests were made in the wake of the August 2020 arrests.

This is the second large-scale search of the newspaper by Hong Kong police since August 2020. Senior Superintendent Lee Kwai-wah of the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Branch said Thursday (June 17) that the branch executed the search under a court warrant and was authorized by the court to examine press materials. Secretary for Security Lee Ka-chiu said the newspaper published the article as part of a scheme to “conspire with foreign powers to endanger national security” and that the assets in question were “black money.

Police mobilized more than 500 people to carry out the search and arrest operation, taking away One Media CEO Zhang Jianhong, One Media Group Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Apple Daily Vice President Chan Pui-man, Chief Editor Lo Wai-kwong and Apple News Platform Director Cheung Chi-wai. Police officers surrounded the newspaper office, reporters and editors had to register with the police when entering the building, and some of the editing and broadcasting equipment had been restricted by the police. News industry groups expressed surprise and criticized the raid for seriously undermining press freedom.

After the arrest of Next Media founder Lai Chi-ying last year, the court refused to release him on bail under the Hong Kong National Security Law, and he was subsequently jailed for other rally-related cases.

The asset freeze order enforced by the Hong Kong National Security Police came from the SAR government’s Security Bureau against three companies – Apple Daily, Apple Daily Printing and Ad Internet Company – the newspaper itself, the newspaper’s printing plant and the company that owns Apple Daily’s website.

In an interview with BBC Connect, Mark Simon, a former Next Media executive and longtime business partner of Lai Chi-ying, who is currently based in New York, criticized: “They [the SAR government] are unhappy with their ability to shut down the free press, and with Apple Daily being both the largest media group there and pro-democracy, I guess they’re finally got pissed off and wanted to get it over with before the first anniversary of the NDAA.”

“It’s no longer our turn to say what to do, it’s the CCP’s turn to say what to do. They can send people into space, but they can’t tolerate people talking about freedom and democracy on the streets of Hong Kong.”

“How much longer we can exist, I don’t know. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. We have enough money to last for 18 months if the bank account gives unblocked. I want to emphasize that this is not a money-losing business, we’re doing OK, the market needs us, it’s the Communist Party that doesn’t want us.”

Mark Simeon is currently wanted by the Hong Kong police.

“Calls for sanctions against China”

The police statement said those arrested early Thursday morning were four men and one woman, aged 47 to 63. “They are suspected of violating Article 29 of the National Security Law ‘conspiracy to collude with foreign or overseas forces to endanger national security. Police have also searched the homes of the arrested men. The five are now being detained for investigation.”

Among them, Zhang Jianhong and Zhou Daquan were arrested again after last August. Also arrested together at the time were Lai Chi-ying, Lai Chi-ying’s eldest son Lai See-yan, his second son Lai Yiu-yan, Next Media’s executive director Wong Wai-keung, Next Media’s general manager of animation company Ng Tat-kwong, and four young activists, including Chow Ting, a former member of Hokumin Siwei and Hong Kong People’s Liberation Movement, and Lee Tsung-chak, a former member of Hokumin Siwei and a special correspondent for the British Independent Television (ITV), with Hong Kong Story member Lee Yu-hin.

Li Guihua said during a meeting with reporters outside the newspaper office that the police had deployed more than 500 people to carry out the operation.

Li Guihua said the police investigation found that from 2019 to now (Note: “Hong Kong National Security Law” June 30, 2020, Hong Kong time 23:00 into effect), the Apple Daily has dozens of articles in English and Chinese calling for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland China, the police believe that “there is good strong evidence” to take this arrest and search operations, and does not rule out the subsequent arrest of others.

Li Guihua also said that the police “attach considerable importance to the freedom of the press,” but international conventions allow searches of news organizations for national security reasons. He urged journalists “not to invite suspicion.

Li did not specify which reports and articles are suspected of being criminal.

Secretary for Security Lee Ka-chiu said the articles were published as part of a plan to “conspire with foreign forces to endanger national security,” but he could not disclose details as the case was under investigation, although he said “journalists doing general media work should not be associated with this incident.

Lee declined to comment directly on whether people who continue to subscribe to Apple Daily, buy shares in Next Media or share the paper’s online posts and articles on social media would violate the National Security Law, and whether the freezing of assets would disguise the suspension of Apple Daily, but stressed that according to the National Security Law and related enforcement rules, the frozen Apple Daily assets cannot be used unless he approves them.

“The property frozen this time is property related to crimes against national security and is the property of suspected criminals. It is an internationally accepted practice to freeze the property of suspected criminals for the purpose of, among other things, preventing the criminal from benefiting from it and preventing the criminal from using his property to continue committing crimes, or to continue doing harm. This black money is different from the legal property of law-abiding citizens.”

Li said, “I have repeatedly said that endangering national security is an extremely serious crime, and we should combat it according to the law.”

The Liaison Office of the Central Government of China in Hong Kong (Liaison Office) issued a statement on the renewed search of the Apple Daily newspaper by Hong Kong police, saying it “firmly supports the SAR government and the police’s just act of strict law enforcement and all efforts to maintain national security and the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” “Freedom of the press is not a ‘shield’ for illegal acts.”

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong for the Protection of National Security also said it “firmly supports the police in performing their duties in accordance with the law and resolutely fights against any acts that endanger national security in accordance with the law.

After the search last August, Lai was charged with fraud, “colluding with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security” and “obstructing justice”.

The prosecution’s application to send the case to the High Court for trial on the “collusion” charge was approved by the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday (15). Since the High Court has unlimited jurisdiction to impose sentences, it means that Lai Chi-ying, if found guilty, could be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment.

On May 14, the Security Bureau announced that the shares and other assets of Next Media under Lai Chi-ying’s name would be frozen first by invoking the Hong Kong National Security Law. Lai currently holds 71.26% of Next Media’s shares, equivalent to HK$349 million ($44.94 million; RMB 289 million) at that day’s share price. At the time, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper said the move had “lifted the hearts of the people”.

Reuters later reported that Li Jiachao sent a letter warning HSBC and Citibank branches that the bank chief would face up to seven years in prison if any funds were moved from Lai’s account.

News groups: spreading terror

The Next Media Union strongly condemned the police raid. The union issued a statement saying, “Today’s action fully reflects the police’s inflated power under the National Security Law, which allows them to treat editorial staff as criminals, journalism as a crime, and newsrooms as crime scenes simply by unilaterally claiming that previously published reports have illegal views. “

The Next Media Union said that the Apple Daily staff will try their best to maintain the publication of the newspaper.

Hong Kong Journalists Association President Yeung Kin-hing said the latest raid shows that the provisions of the Hong Kong National Security Law that protect freedom of expression and check and balance the law enforcement agencies are “zero”. The media will never speak out again.

In response to a question from a BBC Chinese correspondent at a videoconference press conference, Yeung Kin-hing also described the media freedom situation in Hong Kong as no longer comparable to that of mainland China, and that “the situation in Hong Kong is extremely bad.”

“It was already a pretty scary scenario when over 200 people were mobilized to search the interview room of a media organization last year. Many people in the media industry did not expect such a scenario. But today the situation is even worse.”

“How could a media organization ever think that it would become a crime scene? The job of the media is to report, to print articles, and there are many different statements in an article. It may not necessarily represent the position of the newspaper house. Even if that is the position of the newspaper, how does that constitute ‘endangering national security’?”

“It’s hard to describe the state of press freedom in Hong Kong in words anymore.”

Reporters Without Borders also condemned the Hong Kong police action and called for the immediate release of all those arrested, including Lai Chi-ying, who is serving a prison sentence.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s regional director for Asia Pacific, commented that the Hong Kong police’s use of Apple Daily’s content as justification for the arrests was deeply troubling and could have far-reaching consequences for the entire Hong Kong media.

“International human rights standards make clear that ‘national security’ can only be invoked as a reason to restrict rights and freedoms when there is a concrete, real, demonstrable, imminent and clear threat of violence or use of force,” she said.

“Protecting journalistic materials is critical in enabling the media to expose wrongdoing without fear of retribution. The authorities are effectively removing these safeguards and putting confidential sources and informants at immediate risk. This is an attack not only on freedom of expression in the press, but also on the freedom of readers to receive information.”

The Hong Kong Democratic Party criticized the Police National Security Branch for accusing the Apple Daily leadership of allegedly violating the Hong Kong National Security Law based solely on dozens of articles in the paper calling for foreign sanctions against Beijing and Hong Kong, but completely failing to account for the details involved. The party’s information technology and broadcasting policy spokesman, Sin Chew Lan, said it was “even more ridiculous” to use articles published before the legislation of the National Security Law as evidence.

A statement from the Democratic Party said, “Freedom of the press is a core value of Hong Kong, and the government’s move is tantamount to stifling the space for news organizations to publish, and silencing journalists and organizations alike.”