Hong Kong police arrest 5 for suspected violation of national security law

Hong Kong police arrest 5 for suspected violation of national security law

Hong Kong police arrest 5 for suspected violation of national security law

"The arrests of five executives at the pro-democracy Apple Daily today under Hong Kong's Orwellian National Security Law destroy any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports freedom of the press", Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement.

Next Digital and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is now in prison and on trial for alleged violations of the National Security Law, as CPJ has documented. "Now we can see them moving boxes of materials onto their truck".

Apple Daily cited a government statement on the raid, which said that the operation was conducted "with a search warrant under Article 43 (1) of the national security law, which "covered the power of searching and seizure of journalistic materials".

The police officers present at Apple Daily Thursday were more than double the number that searched the newspaper's headquarters back in August, and this time they prevented reporters from live-streaming the sweep of their offices.

Speaking with AFP last month, chief editor Law admitted the paper was in "crisis" since Lai's jailing but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing. "They're arresting the top editorial folks".

Apple Daily said five of its directors, including 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 all been arrested in morning raids.

Lai, who founded Next Digital, has been the most high-profile target of the government's push against democracy advocates in Hong Kong. He is also accused of breaching the national security law in connection with protest activities.

On Thursday morning, trading of Next Digital shares was halted, without any reason being given.

"Everyone must decide for themselves", he told reporters after the arrests were made.

"The action targeted the use of journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security", he said. Normal journalists are different from these people. It prohibits "separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference" in Hong Kong.

"They are arresting editors", Mark Simon, an adviser to Lai who is outside Hong Kong, told Reuters. But China's increasing grip over the city, cemented in its imposition of the national security law previous year, has tarnished that reputation.

The operation was ongoing and aimed to gather evidence for a case related to suspected contravention of the security law.

The law has been used to arrest over a hundred pro-democracy figures since it was first implemented in June previous year.

In a "letter to readers" posted on the Apple Daily website Thursday afternoon, the paper said every one of its journalists has reported the truth, legally and reasonably. "Whereas prior attacks on Apple Daily have focused on Jimmy Lai's own advocacy, these arrests are - for the first time - focused on Apple Daily's journalistic output".

Lai's assets were also frozen under the same law.

Media freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated in recent years, with increased censorship at the city's once outspoken public broadcaster RTHK. The result is that it has virtually silenced opposition voices in the city - and drawn sanctions from the US against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.

A live stream of the raid on Apple Daily's social media showed large numbers of officers entering the building, while others used cones to block part of the road outside.

Speculation has been growing that Apple Daily's days are numbered as Hong Kong's political climate grows more uncertain.

"Hong Kong's press freedom is now hanging by a thread", the letter said. "Nevertheless, the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm".

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