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Hong Kong police target newspaper

Security law used to arrest execs on collusion charges by ZEN SOO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 18, 2021 at 3:58 a.m.
Ryan Law (third from left), Apple Daily’s chief editor, is escorted Thursday by police officers in Hong Kong after his arrest on suspicion of colluding with a foreign country, according to media reports. (AP)

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong police used a national security law Thursday to arrest five editors and executives of a pro-democracy newspaper on charges of colluding with foreign powers -- the first time the legislation has been used against the press in yet another sign of an intensifying crackdown by Chinese authorities in the city long known for its freedoms.

Police said they had evidence that more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily played a "crucial part" in what they called a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

The newspaper said in a statement that the move left it "speechless" but vowed to continue its reporting, and even invited other media outlets to watch today's editions roll off the presses, a show of its commitment to continue its work.

Apple Daily has long been one of the most outspoken defenders of Hong Kong's freedoms and in recent years has often criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for walking back promises that the territory could retain those freedoms for 50 years after the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

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The newspaper has thus found itself a frequent target. Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is serving a 20-month prison sentence after being convicted of playing a role in unauthorized protests in 2019, when Hong Kongers took to the streets in antigovernment demonstrations in response to a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to stand trial in China.

Protests grew to include calls for broader democratic freedoms, but the movement only appeared to harden Beijing's resolve to limit civil liberties in the territory, including by imposing the national security law used in Thursday's arrests.

The legislation outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, and has been used to arrest more than 100 pro-democracy figures since it was first implemented a year ago, with many others fleeing abroad. The result is that it has virtually silenced opposition voices in the city -- and drawn sanctions from the U.S. against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.

Those arrested Thursday included Apple Daily's chief editor Ryan Law; the CEO of its publisher Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung; the publisher's chief operating officer; and two other top editors, according to the newspaper.

Police also froze $2.3 million in assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily, said Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent at Hong Kong's National Security Department.

Trading in shares of Next Digital was halted Thursday morning at the request of the company, according to filings with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

In an apparent show of force, more than 200 police officers were involved in the search of Apple Daily's offices, and the government said a warrant was obtained to look for evidence of a suspected violation of the national security law.

Apple Daily published a letter to its readers, saying that police had confiscated many items during the search, including 38 computers that contained "considerable" journalistic material.

"Today's Hong Kong feels unfamiliar and leaves us speechless. It feels as though we are powerless to stop the regime from exercising its power as it pleases," the letter read. "Nevertheless, the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm. We will continue to persist as Hong Kongers and live up to the expectations so that we have no regrets to our readers and the times we are in."

Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee said at a news conference that police will investigate those arrested and others to establish if they have assisted in instigating or funding the offenses.

He alleged that the police action against the Apple Daily editors and executives is not related to "normal journalistic work."

"The action targeted the use of journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security," he said.

He said anyone working with the "perpetrators" would "pay a hefty price." He added: "Distance yourself from them, otherwise all you will be left with are regrets."

The Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong said in a statement Thursday that it supported police action, noting that while the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees the freedoms of speech and press, those rights cannot undermine the "bottom line of national security."

"Freedom of the press is not a 'shield' for illegal activities," the liaison office said.

Police officers stand guard outside Apple Daily headquarters as Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded local newspaper Apple Daily, is arrested by police at his home in Hong Kong on Aug. 10, 2020. The Apple Daily editors and executives were detained Thursday, June 17, 2021, under a national security law that took effect last year.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Police officers stand guard outside Apple Daily headquarters as Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded local newspaper Apple Daily, is arrested by police at his home in Hong Kong on Aug. 10, 2020. The Apple Daily editors and executives were detained Thursday, June 17, 2021, under a national security law that took effect last year.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Police officers escort Cheung Kim-hung, right, CEO and Executive Director of Next Digital Ltd at Apple Daily headquarters in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers escort Cheung Kim-hung, right, CEO and Executive Director of Next Digital Ltd at Apple Daily headquarters in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (Apple Daily via AP)
Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (Apple Daily via AP)
Copies of Apple Daily newspaper are packed at the printing house in Hong Kong, early Friday, June 18, 2021. Five editors and executives at pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were arrested Thursday under Hong Kong's national security law, its stock was halted and police were searching its offices in moves raising concerns about the media's future in the city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Copies of Apple Daily newspaper are packed at the printing house in Hong Kong, early Friday, June 18, 2021. Five editors and executives at pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were arrested Thursday under Hong Kong's national security law, its stock was halted and police were searching its offices in moves raising concerns about the media's future in the city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee listens to questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police used a sweeping national security law against the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper for the first time Thursday, arresting five editors and executives over articles calling for sanctions against people in Hong Kong and China. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee listens to questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police used a sweeping national security law against the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper for the first time Thursday, arresting five editors and executives over articles calling for sanctions against people in Hong Kong and China. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Police officers escort Ryan Law, Apple Daily's chief editor, at the Apple Daily headquarters in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers escort Ryan Law, Apple Daily's chief editor, at the Apple Daily headquarters in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Workers check the copies of Apple Daily newspaper at the printing house in Hong Kong, early Friday, June 18, 2021. Five editors and executives at pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were arrested Thursday under Hong Kong's national security law, its stock was halted and police were searching its offices in moves raising concerns about the media's future in the city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Workers check the copies of Apple Daily newspaper at the printing house in Hong Kong, early Friday, June 18, 2021. Five editors and executives at pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were arrested Thursday under Hong Kong's national security law, its stock was halted and police were searching its offices in moves raising concerns about the media's future in the city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
FILE - In this April 18, 2020, file photo, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, center, who founded local newspaper Apple Daily, is arrested by police officers at his home in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police on Thursday, June 17, 2021, arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
FILE - In this April 18, 2020, file photo, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, center, who founded local newspaper Apple Daily, is arrested by police officers at his home in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police on Thursday, June 17, 2021, arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of Apple Daily under the national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to local media reports.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Print Headline: Hong Kong police target newspaper

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