Two Apple Daily executives sue police for damages; reporter slams authorities for crackdown that led to Apple Daily’s suspension

Lo Wai-kwong, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, and Cheung Chi-wai, director of the Apple Action News platform, who were arrested last week on suspicion of violating national security laws, each appealed to the Hong Kong High Court on Wednesday (June 23) for the return of items illegally seized by police during searches of the Next Media building and their homes. The defendants are Hong Kong Police Commissioner Tang Ping-keung, who led the search operation.

More than 500 police officers raided Apple Daily’s headquarters last Thursday (June 17) and arrested five of its executives, including Lo Wai-kwong and Cheung Chi-wai, for allegedly violating Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law with dozens of their articles. The next day, Luo and One Media Group CEO Zhang Jianhong were formally charged by police with “colluding with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security.

Luo is currently in police custody, while Zhang, who is also charged, is on bail.

In their petition, Luo and Zhang asked the court to determine whether the items seized by police during last week’s search of the Next Media building and their home included journalistic materials, other materials protected by “legal professional privilege” and items beyond the scope of a court warrant. If the court determines that the materials and items seized by the police contained these three categories of materials and items, the two asked the court to order the police to return them and provide compensation.

The Hong Kong police raid on Apple Daily’s headquarters was accompanied by a freeze of HK$18 million (approximately US$2.32 million) in accounts with assets related to Apple Daily. The Apple Daily, which has been with Hong Kong readers for 26 years, was forced to stop publication after its last edition on Thursday (June 24) because its working capital was frozen and its application to unfreeze or partially unfreeze the newspaper was not approved.

According to Hong Kong media, Yang Qingqi, an editorial page reporter for Apple Daily who was arrested on Wednesday (June 23), has been released on bail. When police arrested Yang, they charged him with “conspiring with foreign forces to endanger national security.

In a report published on Thursday (June 24), Apple Daily said that Yang, 55, who goes by the pseudonym Li Ping, joined Apple Daily years ago as a reporter in the paper’s China section and later wrote editorials for the paper.

The forced suspension of Apple Daily caused an outcry and protest from Hong Kong journalists.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, along with seven other journalism-related associations and unions, issued a joint statement Wednesday (June 23) criticizing the Hong Kong authorities for suppressing and clamping down on press freedom. The statement said, “Under the regime’s crackdown, Next Media, which has been with Hong Kong people for 26 years, has been forced to cease operations, leaving Hong Kong without a media organization that speaks out and insists on defending the truth, and we are outraged! Grief!” The statement called on the industry and all Hong Kong citizens to wear black on Thursday (June 24) “to show their dissatisfaction with the oppressive regime’s destruction of press freedom.”

On the same day, the Hong Kong Journalists Association also issued a separate statement expressing extreme sadness at the suspension of Apple Daily and paying tribute to fellow journalists who stood by their respective journalism jobs until the end. The statement pointed out that the Apple Daily had broadened the horizons of Hong Kong people and promoted the advancement of the media industry, and that its forced closure was “an immeasurable loss to the industry and to Hong Kong as a whole. The statement called on the SAR government to “keep its promise to protect press freedom so that media workers can serve Hong Kong without fear.

In an interview with CNBC, Hong Kong Journalists Association President Ronald Chan said the forced suspension of Apple Daily showed the threat to press freedom in Hong Kong. “The threat is clear, and we feel that threat very clearly from the suspension of Apple Daily,” he said.