Hong Kong, 17 June: Police arrested the editor in chief of the Apple Daily, the media group founded by jailed pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, and four other directors, for alleged national security offenses in a series of early morning raids on Thursday, as hundreds of police officers blocked access to the media group’s Hong Kong headquarters.
Apple Daily confirmed Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman, and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai had been arrested.
Police said the five are accused of “colluding with foreign forces”, which is an offence under the National Security Law that China opposed on the territory nearly a year ago.
Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah told a media conference outside the company’s headquarters that the offences were committed in “over 30 pieces of articles” that had allegedly requested foreign governments impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China. He said the five directors had “played a very, very important role” in their publication.
Lai founded Apple Daily in 1995 after making his fortune in fashion retailing, but the feisty pro-democracy newspaper has come under increasing pressure since the National Security Law came into force.
Its headquarters were first raided when the now-jailed Lai was arrested last August, and in May authorities used the security law to impose a freeze on Lai’s assets.
The raid on the Apple Daily is the first specifically related to the newspaper’s content, although the police did not answer questions about whether the articles under investigation were news reports or opinion.
Hong Kong’s Security Minister John Lee told a press conference the arrests were not related to what he called “normal” journalistic work.
“We need to differentiate what these suspects have done from normal journalistic work,” he told reporters.
“Normal journalistic work takes place freely and lawfully in Hong Kong and I do not envisage any professional journalist will be conspiring do to any act to endanger national security.”
Local media said police arrived at the building at about 7am (23:00 GMT on Wednesday) with warrants to search the premises as well as to seize “journalistic materials”.
Lee said 500 officers were involved in the search of the building and that police had had to “look into the computers to get the evidence”.
Entrances and exits to the compound were blocked off and the police force’s official Facebook page showed a livestream of events with journalists gathered outside.
“Police are conducting law enforcement operations in the Tseung Kwan O Industrial Area,” it said.
Apple Daily was also livestreaming the raid although it said that all employees arriving at the office had been required to register personal data such as ID cards, staff cards, telephone numbers and addresses with the police and were only allowed into the canteen. Reporters were “prevented from returning to work,” the media group said on its Facebook page.