Hong Kong police on Friday (June 18) formally charged One Media Group CEO Zhang Jianhong and Apple Daily editor-in-chief Luo Weiguang with “colluding with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security” under Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law. In reporting the news, Reuters commented that the prosecution of the two Next Media Group executives under the national security law sent shivers down the spine of the media and its practitioners throughout Hong Kong.
The day before, more than 500 police officers raided the headquarters of Apple Daily and arrested five of its executives for allegedly violating the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law in dozens of articles. In addition to Zhang Jianhong and Luo Weiguang, who have been formally charged, the other three arrested remain in custody and continue to be investigated.
Zhang Jianhong and Luo Weiguang, who were formally charged, will reportedly be brought to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court for arraignment on Saturday (June 19).
Police had earlier frozen 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.32 million) of Next Media Group’s assets. Police said they will also prosecute three other related companies.
The arrests and prosecutions of Next Media and Apple Daily executives have raised serious concerns about further erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong and have been criticized and condemned by Western governments, international human rights organizations and journalists’ associations. Beijing’s implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong at the end of June last year has put a totalitarian frost on the lives of Hong Kong people, including education and the arts.
In a silent protest, Hong Kong people took to the streets on Friday to buy the day’s Apple Daily, with long lines in front of some newsstands. For this reason, the Apple Daily, which normally sells about 80,000 copies a day, was printed in an extra 500,000 copies on Friday, six times more than usual.
Some newspaper buyers interviewed by Reuters said they were worried that the Apple Daily could be discontinued at any time, so they came out to buy the Friday edition “to preserve history. Others came out to buy the paper purely to “support freedom of the press. Others came out to buy the paper not knowing what they were going to do with it, but “to buy a newspaper to make their conscience feel better.
Fang’s attack on Apple Daily is the second since the arrest of Next Media and Apple Daily owner Lai Chi-ying last August. Lai, a staunch supporter of democracy and a strong opponent of Beijing’s totalitarianism, faces three charges under the National Security Law and has already been convicted of participating in an unauthorized rally and is currently serving a prison sentence. Lai’s assets have also been frozen by Hong Kong authorities. Lai’s case is also the first time authorities have cited media articles as potential evidence of a violation of the National Security Law.
Hong Kong government officials continued to claim that freedom of the press and other rights in Hong Kong were not affected in any way, but that national security was a red line.
A statement issued by the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong in Beijing said the national security law “protects freedom of the press. The statement also warned “foreign forces” not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs.
The nationalist-leaning Beijing Global Times, in reporting on the arrest of five Apple Daily executives, even quoted a so-called legal expert as saying that it would not rule out shutting down Apple Daily in the future.
Reuters also quoted a journalist who still works at Apple Daily as saying that the police attack on Apple Daily’s office was a sad moment for Hong Kong. “If we can’t exist anymore, there will no longer be any freedom of the press in Hong Kong.”