The arrests were made according to a new national security law.
Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested five senior figures at the Apple Daily, a tabloid newspaper that had taken a strong stand supporting pro-democracy protests, under a new national security law.
The five, including publisher Cheung Kim-hung and editor-in-chief Ryan Law, have been accused of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” the South China Morning Post quoted a police statement.
Thursday’s search of the paper’s offices by more than 200 police officers was the second major move following last year’s new national security law targeting a newspaper that had angered the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong for its coverage of the 2019 protests and calls for democracy.
Hong Kong’s national security police, the Post reported, cited “more than 30 Apple Daily articles calling for sanctions against the city and mainland China”, saying the articles were “evidence of a conspiracy to collude with foreign forces in violation of the national security law.”
Prior to the passing of the law, the media in Hong Kong had broadly functioned with freedom that newspapers on the mainland are denied, under the “one country, two systems” model that guaranteed a range of rights following the 1997 handover.
The ambiguity of the national security law and how it defines collusion has been criticised by journalist associations in Hong Kong.
“The operation proves that the national security law has been weaponised to target certain media outlets,” Hong Kong Journalism Association chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing told the Post, saying it had “intensified a chilling effect on media freedom.”
“Members of the public will refrain from sending tips to journalists on issues of public interest, as media outlets may not be able to guarantee the security of journalistic materials,” he said.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said Thursday’s raid was “a new low in a bottomless assault on press freedom”. “This has nothing to do with enforcing the law,” she said, “and everything to do with politicised retribution.”