© Reuters. A worker walks through the Apple Daily and Next Media offices after police raided the news room in Hong Kong, China on June 17, 2021. REUTERS / Lam Yik
By Jessie Pang and Sara Cheng
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police charged the editor-in-chief and head of pro-democracy tabloid Apple (NASDAQ 🙂 Daily on Friday for collusion with a foreign country, a national security case that rocked the city’s media.
Around 500 police officers searched the media on Thursday and five Apple Daily executives were arrested on suspicion that dozens of their articles were in violation of Hong Kong’s new security law.
Police said they tried two of the five identified by Apple Daily as Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung on Friday.
The other three, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Chan Puiman, and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai, were released on bail late Friday, according to Apple Daily.
The exact terms of their bail were not immediately known, but it appeared that the three had not been charged.
“I know there are two other colleagues who haven’t come out yet. They are going to be charged under the national security law. I’m very upset. I hope they can be saved soon,” Chan said as she left the police station.
“I know the company and Apple Daily colleagues continue to do their job professionally to keep reporting the news. I am proud of them. I am very touched. We will do our best.”
Police also announced earlier that they would be prosecuting three Apple Daily affiliates for the same crime after their HK $ 18 million ($ 2.32 million) assets were frozen.
The arrests have further alarmed media freedom in Hong Kong and have been criticized by Western governments as well as international human rights groups and press associations.
United Nations chief human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday the raid was “another terrifying message for media freedom.”
The national security law passed by Beijing in 2020 on the former British colony has given most aspects of Hong Kong life, including education and the arts, an authoritarian tone.
It was the first case in which authorities cited media articles as a potential violation of the security law imposed after nearly a year of mass protests for democracy. Beijing says the law is necessary to bring stability to the city after the sometimes violent unrest.
Democracy supporters flocked to buy copies of Apple Daily on Friday to protest the raid.
The popular 26-year-old newspaper, which combines liberal discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations against those in power, increased its print run on Friday from 80,000 the day before to 500,000 copies.
In the Mong Kok district, queues formed at some kiosks at midnight, and some customers dragged hundreds of first editions onto trolleys and suitcases.
“You never know when this newspaper will die,” said one reader, who only gave his last name, Tsang, because of the sensitivity of the matter. “As Hong Kongers, we have to preserve history. Hold on as long as we can. Even though the road is bumpy, we still have to go because there is no other road.”
In the morning some newspaper kiosks in the center of Hong Kong were already sold out.
Tam, a 40-year-old banker, said he bought his first newspaper in 20 years after hearing about the raid.
“I don’t want to do anything with the newspaper in hand. It’s just for my conscience,” he said.
It was the second time police raided the newsroom following the arrest last August of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist and staunch Beijing critic owned by Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.
Lai’s assets have since been frozen as he faces three charges under the Security Act. He is serving prison terms for attending illegal gatherings.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that freedom of the media and other rights will remain intact, but national security is a red line.
China’s Foreign Affairs Commissioner said in a statement that the national security law protects freedom of the press and warned “outside forces” to “keep their hands off Hong Kong.”