Five hundred Hong Kong police officers raided the newsroom of pro-democracy Apple Daily on Thursday and searched journalists’ computers in an operation that officials said was aimed at elucidating possible violations of the controversial Hong Kong national security law of the former British colony.
Overnight, Honcongue police arrested five newspaper executives – the editor, executive director, operations director, deputy editor, and general manager – and officers were seen working on the newsroom computers. after filing a warrant for the seizure of journalistic material, including journalists’ phones and notebooks.
The operation is the latest setback for media mogul Jimmy Lai, 73, owner of the Apple Daily and avid Beijing critic. He has had his assets frozen under the National Security Act and is currently serving a prison term for participating in protests against the Chinese regime that are banned in Hong Kong.
Apple Daily broadcast the police operation live on its Facebook page. The footage showed the moment when police cordoned off the compound and entered the building.
“They arrived around 7 am, our building is closed,” said an unidentified journalist in the video. “Now we can see that they are carrying boxes of material in the truck. Police were preventing newsroom professionals from accessing certain floors and using various equipment, the report said.
In comments echoing warnings about restrictions on press freedom in the city, Security Secretary John Lee described the newspaper’s newsroom as a “crime scene” and said the operation was aimed at those who used his reporting as “tools” to endanger “national security”.
According to Lee, the five leaders were arrested for conspiring through journalism to incite foreign forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
“Normal journalists are different from these people. Don’t conspire with them,” the secretary said at a press conference. “Do your journalistic work as freely as you want under the law, as long as you do not conspire or intend to violate the national security law.”
Police froze HK $ 18 million ($ 11.7 million) in assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily and said the operation did not target the press as a whole. The 2019 reports, officials said, could be used as evidence against the accused, even though they predate the National Security Law enacted last year.
In a letter to readers, the Apple Daily said he was the victim of a direct attack by the regime, but that his team “will stand firm in their posts with loyalty and fight to the end.” According to the statement, 38 computers used by journalists were seized by police.
“This is a blatant attack on the editorial staff of the Apple Daily,” Mark Simon, a consultant for Lai who is outside Hong Kong, told Reuters news agency. “They shut down the most important writing.” When asked how long he thought the newspaper could survive, Simon replied: “They decide, not us”, referring to the authorities in Honcongue.
Thursday’s raid marked the second time that Hong Kong police have raided Apple Daily headquarters. Last year, 200 men entered the newspaper building to arrest Lai on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces – one of the crimes punishable under the legislation, which provides for sentences of up to life in prison for acts considered to be subversive activities, secession and terrorism.
Lai has been detained since December, has been denied bail, and served several sentences for participating in unauthorized rallies, including the wave of protests that took crowds to the streets in 2019 and drew the attention of the international community to violations of individual rights in the territory.
Popular in Hong Kong, Apple Daily was founded 26 years ago and mixes pro-democracy rhetoric and journalistic investigations of the city’s power figures with coverage of celebrity lives.
Steven Butler, coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists in Asia, said the operation destroyed “the remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports press freedom.” For him, China may be able to eliminate the Apple Daily, but “at an exorbitant price to be paid by the inhabitants of Hong Kong, who have benefited from decades of free access to information”.
The operation comes just days after the world’s richest democracies berated China for human rights abuses at a G7 summit and NATO, the Western military alliance, named Beijing as a risk to their security interests.
Police action against Apple Daily “further demonstrates how the National Security Act is being used to stifle freedom of the press and speech in Hong Kong,” the spokesperson for the Hong Kong said on Thursday. EU Nabila Massrali in a press release. “It is essential that all existing rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are fully protected, including freedom of press and publication.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also said the operation was aimed at silencing dissidents. “Freedom of the press is one of the rights that China pledged to protect in the joint declaration and it must be respected,” he said, referring to the agreement that was supposed to guarantee autonomy. of Hong Kong vis-à-vis the central regime since the return of the British. the territory to China in 1997.