Hong Kong 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 offences 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.
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”.
Li 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 “prevent(ed) from returning to work,” the media group said on its Facebook page.
China imposed the National Security Law nearly a year ago, after the semi-autonomous city was rocked by months of sometimes violent protests in 2019.
The broadly worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested.