China Arrests 5 Pro-Democracy Newspaper Editors, Executives; Seizes 38 Computers

Five editors and executives of a pro-democracy newspaper were arrested by Hong Kong police Thursday on charges of colluding with foreign powers.

The Apple Daily newspaper, a defender of Hong Kong's freedom and an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, said the arrests left it "speechless" but promised to continue reporting.

"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 paper said in a letter. "Nevertheless, the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm. We will continue to persist as Hongkongers and live up to the expectations so that we have no regrets to our readers and the times we are in."

Police also confiscated 38 computers and froze 18 million Hong Kong dollars in assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily, according to Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent at Hong Kong's National Security Department.

Police acted under Hong Kong's sweeping legislation that outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion. The law has been used to arrest over 100 pro-democracy figures and silence opposition voices since it was implemented a year ago.

Hong Kong Police Arrest Apple Daily Editors
Cheung Kim Hung, CEO of Next Digital limited, is escorted by police into the offices of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong on Thursday after police arrested the chief editor and others at the pro-democracy newspaper. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

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The newspaper has thus found itself a frequent target. Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence after being convicted of playing a role in unauthorized protests in 2019, when Hongkongers took the streets in massive anti-government 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.

Arrested Thursday were 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 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.

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.

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.

Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee told 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.

In a chilling warning, he said that 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.
Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairman Chris Yeung criticized the arrests and raid in an online news conference, warning that the national security law was being used as a "weapon to prosecute media executives and journalists for publishing reports and articles that are deemed as a threat to national security."

He said that the court warrant that allowed police to search the offices of Apple Daily had undermined journalists' ability to protect their materials, a vital part of upholding press freedom.

"Self-censorship will get worse if journalists are not sure whether they are able to protect their sources of information," said Yeung.

Apple Daily Editors Arrested
Police officers escort Ryan Law, Apple Daily's chief editor, at the newspaper's headquarters in Hong Kong on Thursday. Kin Cheung/AP Photo