June 17 (UPI) – Hong Kong police raided the headquarters of pro-democracy Apple Daily on Thursday, arresting five directors on suspicion of violating a controversial national security law for publishing articles urging foreign countries to impose sanctions on China.
Police said in a statement that officers arrested four men and a woman, aged 47 to 63, on suspicion of “colluding with a foreign country or with outside elements to endanger national security.”
The arrests follow the Hong Kong government’s announcement that the National Security Police Department raided the offices of Tseung Kwan O of Apple Daily with a Section 43 (1) warrant of the National Security Law which covers the power to search and seize journalistic material.
Authorities said they also searched the homes of those arrested.
Apple Daily identified the detainees as CEO Cheung Kim-hung, COO Royston Chow, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Associate Editor Chan Pui-man and Platform Director of Apple Daily Digital Cheung Chi-wai.
The newspaper said hundreds of police raided his offices around 7:30 a.m.
Police said the arrests and searches were carried out in connection with more than 30 articles printed by Apple Daily in English and Chinese calling on foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
“We have very strong evidence that the questionable items play a crucial role in the conspiracy, which provides the ammunition to foreign countries and institutions and organizations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China,” the conspiracy said. Hong Kong National. Security Unit Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah told reporters at a press conference.
Li said the articles were meant to urge foreign countries to impose sanctions on China, calling them “very straightforward.”
Police also froze $ 2.3 million in assets of the newspaper and its affiliates, he added.
In a separate press conference, Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu accused the newspaper of using journalistic tools to collude with foreign countries to convince them to take “hostile actions” against Hong Kong and Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported.
“We have to differentiate what the suspects did from normal journalistic work,” he said. “All journalists in the city must keep their distance [from this approach]. “
When repeatedly asked by reporters whether the articles in question were reports, editorials or commentaries, Lee declined to respond, saying they were not just investigating the content of the articles but “how the whole criminal conspiracy is carried out “.
“I cannot discuss the evidence further as there are still ongoing investigations and possible court cases,” he said. “For all journalists, they need only ask themselves whether they intend or intend to harm national security, and to act according to the law when working.”
The pro-democracy newspaper had already been raided in August following the imposition of the National Security Act, which criminalizes with severe penalties acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and collaboration with foreign powers to undermine China’s national security.
Police arrested several employees in the raid, including newspaper founder Jimmy Lai, who was sentenced to 14 months in prison for his role in the pro-democracy protests that rocked the city in 2019. He also faces to separate charges of violation of the National Security Act. using Apple Daily to seek sanctions against Beijing from foreign countries.
Thursday’s arrests are expected to draw condemnation from Western countries and press freedom organizations, although Li said they did not target the media.
Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Thursday’s arrests destroyed “any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports press freedom.”
“China, which controls Hong Kong, is able to eliminate the newspaper, which it sees as an annoying critic, but only at a high price to be paid by the people of Hong Kong, who have enjoyed decades of access.” free to information, “he said in a statement.
The United States has repeatedly sanctioned Chinese officials under the draconian national security law imposed on the former British colony in June last year, a law that critics say undermines the freedoms granted in Hong Kong upon its return to Beijing sovereignty in 1997.
Further US sanctions were imposed as part of the National People’s Congress in March unilaterally approving legislation to overhaul the island’s electoral system to ensure that only so-called patriots can hold office.
Britain has also imposed measures to punish China because of the law, going so far as to pave the way for citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents.