Two executives of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily were denied bail on Saturday (June 19) on charges under national security laws, prompting international condemnation and concerns about media freedom in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong police sent 500 officers to raid the newsroom of Apple Daily on Thursday in what authorities called a “crime scene” and arrested five of the paper’s top executives, including editor-in-chief Lo Wai-kwong and Next Media CEO Cheung Kin-hung.
Police said about 30 articles published by the newspaper were suspected of violating national security laws. This is the first case in which authorities say media articles may have violated the controversial national security law.
Lo and Cheung were charged with “colluding with foreign countries or external factors to endanger national security” and appeared in West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Saturday, where they were denied bail by Chief Justice So Wai-tak.
They are due back in court on Aug. 13.
According to court documents cited by Reuters, Lo and Cheung are accused of colluding with Apple Daily founder Lai Chi-ying between July 1, 2020, and April 3, 2021, to ask foreign countries, individuals or organizations to “impose sanctions or blockade on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the People’s Republic of China, or engage in other hostile activities. activities.”
Reuters reported that Judge So Wai-tak found that there was insufficient evidence to believe that Luo Weiguang and Zhang Jianhong would not jeopardize national security and denied the pair’s application for bail.
Under security laws, the defendants have the burden of proving that they would not pose a security threat if released on bail.
As part of their bail applications, Luo Weiguang and Zhang Jianhong offered to resign from Apple Daily, refrain from talking to the media and foreign politicians, and pay cash bail of up to HK$200,000 and HK$3 million, respectively.
The three Apple Daily affiliates accused of colluding with foreign countries appointed officers to represent the companies in court. Authorities have frozen HK$18 million (about $2.32 million) in assets of the three companies.
The other three executives arrested on Thursday, namely Next Media’s president of operations and chief financial officer Chow Tat-kuen, Apple Daily vice president Chan Pui-man and Apple Action News platform director Cheung Chi-wai, were released on bail late Friday, according to Apple Daily.
According to Reuters, Chen Jianhong said outside the courtroom after being denied bail at Saturday’s hearing, “We will still publish the newspaper tomorrow. We will do our best to continue operations.”
Earlier Saturday, before the hearing, crowds gathered outside the courtroom, some carrying yellow umbrellas or wearing Apple Daily T-shirts saying, “Don’t be afraid, keep fighting.”
Hong Kong’s national security law punishes what Beijing broadly calls secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers with up to life in prison.
The arrest of five Apple Daily executives by Hong Kong police and the scale of the raid on the newspaper have been criticized by Western countries, human rights groups, press associations and the UN’s chief human rights spokesman.
Since Lai’s arrest last year, Apple Daily and its listed publisher, Next Media Group (Next Digital), have faced increasing pressure.
Lai’s assets have been frozen under national security laws. He has already been sentenced to 20 months in prison for participating in an unauthorized assembly. He also faces national security charges.