Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Hong Kong uses draconian security law to charge newspaper for first time

Apple Daily says it has been left'speechless by the government's warning for people to cut ties with the newspaper. Image Shutterstock Apple Daily says it has been left'speechless by the government's warning for people to cut ties with the newspaper. Image Shutterstock
Sandy Nunez | 18 June, 2021, 13:55

Hong Kong police raided the office of Apple Daily and arrested five executives, including editor-in-chief Ryan Law and NextDigital CEO Cheung Kim-hung, the outlet reported on Thursday.

Police said HK$18 million (US$2.3m) in Apple Daily assets had also been frozen under the security law, the first time a seizure order has been made directly against a Hong Kong media company, rather than an individual.

"The charges of "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security" appear to be entirely politically motivated".

The Apple Daily's chief-editor and four other executives were arrested by the Hong Kong police. Authorities also arrested Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow and deputy editors Chan Pui-man and Cheung Chi-wai.

The Hong Kong National Security Law was passed in June 2020, enacted by the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung said in an online news conference that the arrests and raid on Apple Daily could create a chilling effect on society.

The U.S. and Japan also spoke out about the arrests.

He alleged that the police action against the Apple Daily editors and executives is not related to "normal journalistic work". "Efforts to stifle media freedom and to restrict the free flow of information not only undermine Hong Kong's democratic institutions but they also hurt Hong Kong's credibility and viability as an global hub".

Over the past 26 years Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper has evolved into the city's most popular tabloid by punching up against a particularly powerful entity that brooks little criticism: China's communist leadership.

"They arrived around 7 am this morning, our building is besieged", an unnamed reporter said in the broadcast.

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"Our actions are not targeting press freedom or journalistic work", he added.

Furthermore, it called on the Hong Kong authorities to recognise that journalism is not a crime and that journalists should not be criminalised simply for doing their jobs.

Apple's labor union, meanwhile, condemned the authorities for "severely infringing on press freedom, using the national security law as pretext", warning of the dangers of criminalizing reporting of news after the fact.

Earlier this week the world's richest democracies scolded the Chinese regime over its rights abuses in Hong Kong at the Group of Seven summit, while North Atlantic Treaty Organisation designated Beijing's behavior as a "systemic challenge" to the global order.

The newspaper's owner, Jimmy Lai, is now serving a 20-month prison sentence after being found guilty of taking part in unapproved pro-democracy protests in 2019.

He admitted that the paper was in "crisis" since the jailing of its owner but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing.

Apple Daily journalists, initially barred from their own newsroom, livestreamed the raid from the roof of their headquarters as hundreds of police swept through their desks.

"We have very strong evidence that questionable articles play a very crucial part for the conspiracy, which provide ammunition for foreign countries, institutions and organizations to impose sanctions", he said.

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