In just one week, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily has come a long way from its glory to the moment when it bids farewell to everyone.
Last Thursday (17), the SAR government deployed 500 police officers to search the offices of Apple, arresting five executives and freezing the funds of three companies related to the newspaper. The police then charged two of the executives with “conspiracy to endanger national security by colluding with foreign countries or forces outside the country,” and a national security judge denied bail. The police also informed seven banks that they could not handle the accounts of the three related companies, and that with the freezing of funds, more than 1,000 employees would not be paid.
The unfortunate situation of Apple is a testimony to the poor legal system in Hong Kong. The defendants have not been convicted and have not even been formally tried, but have already begun to suffer the punishment of criminals.
According to the police, the two Apple executives and three related companies were charged with “colluding with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security” for publishing dozens of articles since 2019 that provided the basis for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong.
The only thing that is clear is that the conspiracy referred to by the police is not a conspiracy between a media executive and a foreign organization, but a conspiracy between media colleagues, and the so-called collusion does not require a specific object of collusion and contact, it seems that as long as the idea of sanctions is expressed, you can be prosecuted.
Where is the promised protection of human rights in the Hong Kong Regional State Security Law? Article 4 of the law states that the authorities shall respect and protect human rights in the maintenance of national security, i.e., freedom of speech, of the press and of publication in accordance with the Basic Law and the two human rights conventions, etc. Should the authorities clarify how the dozens of articles used by the police as the basis for prosecution are to be distinguished from those that should be protected? How can the content of a report or commentary alone be considered a crime, and how can it not violate international human rights conventions?
These are the big questions of jurisprudence that may one day be decided by the court through the prosecution and the defense. However, even before the distant trial date, and even before the police have listed the “criminal facts” of Apple, the law enforcement actions have already left Apple with no money and no ability to operate, and it is facing the crisis of closing down.
For example, although Article 31 of the National Security Law already provides that a commercial organization may only order the suspension of its operations if it is found guilty of a crime under the National Security Law, and Article 32 provides that only after the organization is found guilty can the authorities confiscate the proceeds and remuneration derived from the crime, as well as the funds intended to be used for the crime. On the other hand, the subsequent Article 43 authorizes the police to freeze or even confiscate property intended to be used for the commission of a crime, or proceeds derived from a crime, when dealing with national security cases. It appears that the police, in this case, have a duty under this article to ensure that Apple cannot use its resources to continue committing crimes, as long as it is identified as a criminal enterprise, and can therefore exercise their power to freeze its assets until the court decides otherwise.
The question arises as to what is meant by “crime” in Article 43. It allows the police to freeze assets intended to be used in the commission of a crime or derived from a crime (not a suspected crime) when investigating a national security case. The point is that the police can only suspect that the subject of the investigation has committed a crime before the court convicts him, so how can they know for sure who the criminal is and freeze his assets? If it is said that the police can take the suspicion as true, it is undoubtedly a positive impact on common sense, one is that law enforcement can convict people, the first suspect as a criminal, the second is to turn the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt, until the court finally ruled acquitted, in order to return your innocence, otherwise are wearing the body of the crime, and therefore accept all kinds of constraints imposed by the authorities, such as the company’s funds can not be used, although not called a penalty, in fact, and the convicted person It is not far from the convicted person.
In addition to the financial lifeline being frozen, the court has a very high threshold for bail for national security suspects, and once two executives are charged with national security, they are also immediately relieved of their duties, as they have to return to scabbard after being arraigned. For example, the CEO of Apple, Zhang Jianhong, proposed a number of bail conditions, including cash guarantee, personnel guarantee, regular reporting, designated address, resignation from current position, no longer involved in any media work, no articles, no interviews, no contact with foreign politicians, etc., but still could not satisfy the national security judge, nor could he know which additional conditions to add in order to be released on bail. In other words, jail time before trial has become the norm.
If you are not satisfied, you can file a judicial review to see if the court will accept it. But even if it is accepted, I believe that before the day of the trial, “Apple” is already on its last legs. It can be seen that a single enforcement action is enough to destroy a legally innocent business organization, so we really have to ask: Where is the procedural justice of the legal system?