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Radio Free Asia

Hong Kong Police Raid Apple Daily Newspaper, Arrest Executives Over Calls For Sanctions

2021-06-17 -- National security police in Hong Kong on Thursday raided the headquarters of a pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, arresting five top executives on suspicion of "collusion with foreign powers" under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Hundreds of police officers raided the headquarters of jailed pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai's Next Digital in Tseung Kwan O at around 7.30 a.m., blocking all entrances of the office, the paper said in a report on its website.

Staff members arriving for work were told to go to the canteen after having their IDs recording, while journalists were barred from filming or live-streaming the scene, and prevented from going to their desks.

National security police arrested Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung, head of operations Royston Chow, chief editor Ryan Law, associate publisher Chan Pui-man and digital platform director Cheung Chi-wai, leading them away in handcuffs.

The five were accused of breaking Article 29 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong pertaining to "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security."

At the same time, national security police froze U.S.$2.32 million in assets belonging to the Apple Daily, Apple Daily Printing and the AD Internet Company. Next Digital shares were suspended on the Hang Seng Index, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the national security division of the Hong Kong police told reporters.

Li said the raid was linked to dozens of articles published both online and in print in Chinese and English, calling for foreign sanctions on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments in response to the widening crackdown on public dissent and political participation in the city.

Secretary for security John Lee said the Apple Daily was using journalism "as a tool to endanger national security" and an "umbrella" to protect itself.

He said Apple Daily journalists weren't journalists in the normal sense, and called on the public to "keep a distance from [these] criminals."

CCP-backed media reported the story almost at the same time as the raid took place, with reports appearing in the People's Daily and state news agency Xinhua, which quoted Beijing's Office for Safeguarding National Security as saying that it "firmly supports the police's law enforcement action against three companies including Apple Daily and five directors of the newspaper."

CCP centenary crackdown

A Chinese political scholar who gave only his surname, Feng, said the Apple Daily and Lai's media empire have long been a thorn in Beijing's side, and the CCP would be keen to suppress them ahead of its centenary celebrations on July 1.

"Hongkongers have been holding huge protests every year on July 1, and obviously this is something that neither the CCP nor the Hong Kong government wishes to see," he said.

"This year, July 1 is also the centenary anniversary of the founding of the CCP, and there will be grand celebrations to promote the so-called great achievements [of the party]," Feng said.

"The CCP is very nervous about the prospect of protests and other dissident actions on that day, whether by Hongkongers or people in mainland China," he said. "So they were bound to take some high-profile, 'strike-hard' action to suppress dissenting voices from civil society."

The raids also come after U.S. President Joe Biden's trip to Europe yielded a consensus among U.S. allies that a common front was needed to deal with China, especially the CCP's human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Professor Flora Chang of National Taiwan University's journalism research institute said the latest raid was a bid to "extinguish the last light of media freedom" from Hong Kong.

"It shows us that the CCP has actually been internally very unstable over the past few years, so it lacks confidence, which is why it uses such tactics to suppress dissent," Chang told RFA.

"On the face of it, it seems powerful, but they clearly feel very vulnerable, otherwise they wouldn't need to use such coercive methods," she said.

The Apple Daily itself vowed to "press on" and keep reporting the truth for its readers, although it was unclear how it would achieve this with no access to its assets.

"Hong Kong's press freedom is now hanging by a thread," the paper said in a letter to readers posted to its website.
'Standing firm

"Law enforcement has labelled journalistic materials that were gathered openly as evidence of crime; while the regime has publicly called on journalists to keep a distance from fellow media workers, who are merely doing their jobs," it said.

"It feels as though we are powerless to stop the regime from exercising its power as it pleases," the letter said. "Nevertheless, the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm."

"The staff of Apple Daily will remain in their positions and report the truth for Hong Kong people in a legal, reasonable and fair manner," it said.

The Next Digital Staff Union said the mere suggestion that journalistic copy could breach the national security law was now enough to have journalists treated as criminals simply for doing their jobs.

"This is a blatant violation of freedom of press in the name of national security," the union said in a statement on its Facebook page.

"We would like to reiterate: journalism is not a crime. We are enraged by the arrests made by the police today.

"We condemn the police for disrupting our operations as a news outlet [but] we will carry on with our jobs with the aim to publish our papers as normal tomorrow," it said.

Germany-based Hong Kong activist Glacier Kwong wrote in an op-ed article posted on the same day as the raid that acts of resistance would likely continue, despite the "dire straits" that the city finds itself it.

"Everything that is not explicitly supporting the regime becomes the target," Kwong wrote. "I do not know when all the suffering will end or how we can achieve what we have been fighting for."

"We actively declined the injustice that we witnessed, and tried to shape Hong Kong to be [the city] we wanted it to be. We have made history, and we are now bearing the weight of history."

Thursday's raid was the second on the paper. The first came a few weeks after the national security law took effect, and resulted in the arrest of the paper's founder Jimmy Lai, 72, on charges of fraud and "collusion with a foreign power," as well as the seizure of his personal assets.

Like many defendants charged under the national security law, Lai was repeatedly denied bail. He is currently serving time in prison for "illegal assembly" over his attendance at peaceful protests.

Reported by Lu Xi and Man Hoi Yan for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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