An estimated 400 police officers raided the Hong Kong offices of independent news outlet Apple Daily on Thursday, June 17, arresting several executives including its editor-in-chief in what is being described as a “blatant attack” on its editorial team.
The outlet is owned and founded by 72-year-old media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is currently in custody facing a slew of questionable charges including fraud and foreign collusion.
Mark Simon, an advisor to Jimmy Lai, told Reuters that the police were “arresting the top editorial folk.”
Apple Daily ran their own story detailing the raid stating, “CEO Cheung Kim-hung, COO Royston Chow, Chief Editor Ryan Law, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Platform Director of Apple Daily Digital Cheung Chi-wai were taken by police officers early on Thursday morning,” adding that “officers also went through their residences.”
The five directors who were taken into custody are accused of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
The raid began around 7:30 am when the police swarmed the offices of Apple Daily and blocked all entrances.
“All staff members were required to register with their identity cards, staff ID and personal information before they were allowed in,” the embattled news outlet reported.
Staff were barred from their desks during the raid to allow officers the ability to search the “crime scene” unimpeded.
Next Digital suspends all trading
Next Digital Limited, Apple Daily’s parent company, suspended trading on Thursday morning in the face of the raid.
In a coordinated attack, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the national security unit said authorities froze HK$18 million (US$2.32 million) in assets belonging to three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and the AD Internet Company.
The paper is being accused of publishing over 30 pieces, both in print and digitally, that Li said were “questionable articles [that] play a very crucial part in the conspiracy.”
John Lee, Secretary for Security, accused Apple Daily of utilizing “journalism as a tool to endanger national security” adding that authorities are investigating whether people in or out of Apple Daily are participating in acts that endanger national security.
Lee insisted that the raid was not targeting the press in general and urged “normal journalists” to “keep a distance from criminals.”
A government statement justified the raid by citing Article 43(1) of the national security law which allows for the “search and seizure of journalistic materials.” The article states that law enforcement can search “premises, vehicles, vessels, aircraft and other relevant places and electronic devices that may contain evidence of an offence.”
Large amounts of computer equipment were seized from the headquarters in addition to the arrests.
Since the passing of the National Security Law by the mainland Chinese authorities in June 2020, the press environment and freedom of expression in Hong Kong have come under greater pressure.
Hundreds of participants in the city’s pro-democracy movement have been arrested in connection with their roles in the protests of 2019 and 2020, which the Chinese Commmunist Party (CCP) and its allies in Hong Kong have claimed were illegal riots.
On June 4, the Hong Kong government clamped down on people seeking to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which took place that day in 1989 as Chinese soldiers killed thousands of demonstrators.
The Epoch Times, a publication founded by overseas Chinese that takes a staunchly critical stance on the CCP and communism, has also come under attack. After the passing of the National Security Law, several of the newspaper’s distribution staff in Hong Kong were detained and threatened by police. This April, The Epoch Times’ print shop in Tsuen Wan district was broken into by several masked thugs, who smashed equipment and set fire to the premises.
Curiously, unlike Apple Daily or the pro-democracy activists, no charges have been brought against The Epoch Times, nor any direct action taken by the authorities to go against the media group.
By contrast, Hong Kong police first raided the offices of Apple Daily in August 2020, mere weeks after the passing of the national security law, arresting Jimmy Lai and his two sons as well as other top executives of Next Digital.
At the time, seven people were arrested in total with authorities stating the arrests were due to “breaches” of the security legislation with offenses including collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.
Authorities utilized 200 police officers to conduct the raid stating that they had obtained a court ordered search warrant to enter the building in the Tseung Kwan O neighborhood.
Shares in Next Digital fell by 16.7 percent the morning following the reports of the arrests.
In May of 2020 authorities froze HK$500 million (US$64.42 million) in assets belonging to Jimmy Lai including his shares in Next Digital.
Leo Timm contributed to this report.