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Radio Free Asia

Hong Kong Police Arrest Former Apple Daily Columnist at Airport

2021-06-28 -- Hong Kong police have arrested a journalist with the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper at the airport as he tried to leave for the United Kingdom, local media reported.

Fung Wai-kong, 57, a former editor and columnist at the paper, was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday on suspicion of "conspiring to collude with foreign powers to endanger national security" under a draconian law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), local media reported.

Police declined to name Fung, but confirmed that a 57-year-old man had been arrested on the same charge, that he remains in police custody, and that investigations are under way.

The paper's closure came after a national security police raid, an asset freeze, and the arrests of six other staff members on the same charges, with police citing dozens of articles published by the paper as early as 2019 in evidence.

Police arrested an op-ed writer widely known by his penname Li Ping and charged chief editor Ryan Law and Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung with "collusion with foreign powers," while releasing three other executives on bail without charge.

As Fung was arrested, the online news site Stand News said it had deleted all commentary and op-ed articles, including blog posts and syndicated copy, from its site.

"Stand News will continue to operate," the free, not-for-profit website said in a statement. "Previous guidelines and editorial practices will remain unchanged, but donations will be suspended, including monthly contributions and direct debits."

A Stand News reporter who asked to remain anonymous said the company is concerned over the risks to its staff and supporters.

The reporter told RFA that they hadn't received any warnings or threats from unnamed individuals, as was common among Apple Daily journalists, but said it was hard to predict how long the operation could last in the current climate.

Ronson Chan, deputy assignment editor at the website, said the new measures were "defensive," as the authorities seemed to keep moving the goalposts when it came to what kind of reporting was considered a breach of the national security law.

A widening crackdown

King-wa Fu, associate professor at the Journalism and Media Research Center of the University of Hong Kong, said the suppression of Apple Daily was "just the beginning" of a widening crackdown on public dissent and criticism of the authorities.

"When the National Security Law was implemented last year, it stated that the Hong Kong government would 'strengthen supervision of the media and the internet'," Fu told RFA. "They have been putting that into practice for a year now, and there has been a significant impact."

"The folding of the Apple Daily has sparked concerns among other media outlets," he said. "This isn't the end; it's just the beginning."

Bruce Lui, convenor of the Independent Commentator Association, said commentary in Hong Kong is getting increasingly risky.

"There are more and more risks attached to working in Hong Kong," Lui said. "There have been no constraints on the authorities' enforcement of the national security law."

"It is entirely possible to commit a crime in Hong Kong now, through words alone."

'But still they lie'

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said that if there was no room for people who ply their trade with words, then Hong Kong could no longer be regarded as an international city.

"The police have repeatedly ignored the voices of the public and the media industry," the HKJA said in a statement on Monday.

"They are arresting journalists at will in the name of national security, and yet they still claim this has nothing to do with press freedom, even though journalists now have to ask themselves if they are ready to bear the consequences of their writing," it said.

"We know that they are lying; they know that they are lying, they know we know they are lying, and we know they know we know, but still they lie," the statement said, paraphrasing Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Police have also refused permission for a once-annual protest march on July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, for the second year in a row, citing coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.

Rights groups the League of Social Democrats, the Tin Shui Wai Connection, and the Save Lantau Alliance had applied to march from Victoria Park to government headquarters on the anniversary, which will also mark the ruling CCP's centenary.

"The police have reasons to believe that holding the activities would not just increase the risk of participants and other citizens getting infected, it would also pose grave threats to the lives and health of all citizens, endangering public safety and affecting the rights of others," according to the letter sent to the groups in response to their applications.

Former organizers the Civil Human Rights Front didn't apply to stage the protest this year, with many of its key members already behind bars or awaiting trial.

Reported by Gigi Lee and Emily Chan for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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