Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy paper Apple Daily and arrest 5, magnifying concerns over erosion of press freedom

·4 min read

Hong Kong's national security police arrested five executives at the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday morning and raided its offices for the second time in a year as pressure on the city's media freedom intensifies. This time the raid targeted the news operation itself.

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four directors were detained on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the controversial national security law, which was imposed by Beijing last summer following the mass pro-democracy protests of 2019.

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.

"This is the worst of times in Hong Kong," the letter read. "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."

Apple Daily is owned by Jimmy Lai, who is already in jail for a string of other protest-related charges while awaiting trial in a national security case. Lai and the paper are openly critical of China.

There has been a wave of arrests and prosecutions since the security law came into effect, but this is the first time police have used a warrant to seize journalistic materials.

PHOTO: Police officers from the national security department escort Apple Daily's Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung from the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media in Hong Kong, China, June 17, 2021. (Lam Yik/Reuters)
PHOTO: Police officers from the national security department escort Apple Daily's Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung from the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media in Hong Kong, China, June 17, 2021. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

Police cited several articles printed in the tabloid and its online edition that they claimed called for foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China, warning that the public could face prosecution for sharing the reports in question on social media.

MORE: Apple Daily editors arrested under Hong Kong security law

Jimmy Lai's longtime advisor, Mark Simon, told ABC News, "Today the Hong Kong government started arresting journalists, three of the five are purely editorial, including Apple Daily's chief editor. Their violation of the security law is doing stories the Chinese Communist Party doesn't want written."

Apple Daily journalists, initially barred from their own newsroom, livestreamed the raid from the roof of their headquarters as hundreds of police swept through their desks. The livestream reporters eventually returned to the newsroom to find their colleagues' computers, including monitors, confiscated by the police.

PHOTO: Copies of Apple Daily newspaper with front pages featuring Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, are displayed for sale at a newsstand in Hong Kong Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.  (Kin Cheung/AP)
PHOTO: Copies of Apple Daily newspaper with front pages featuring Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, are displayed for sale at a newsstand in Hong Kong Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Simon said staff at the paper remain determined to do their job, despite the risks. "Reporters are still putting out stories as CCP-instructed Hong Kong police stand behind their desks," he said.

One journalist at the paper, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC News he was "prepared for this day to come."

"I just didn't expect it to come in such a barbaric and uncivilized way in terms of pushing all journalists out of the newsroom and accessing our computers," the journalist said. "Those are sacred to us as journalists."

Authorities also froze $2.3 million worth of assets owned by three companies linked to Apply Daily, leaving it unclear how staff will be paid.

MORE: Hong Kong journalist charged as press freedom fears grow

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

In April, the pro-government paper Ta Kung Pao, owned by Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, published an op-ed calling for Apple Daily to be banned outright under the security law for publishing an article on a outdoor ad in London featuring slogans deemed subversive by Hong Kong government.

PHOTO: Reporters work at the news room of Apple Daily Monday, April 26, 2021, in Hong Kong.  (Vincent Yu/AP)
PHOTO: Reporters work at the news room of Apple Daily Monday, April 26, 2021, in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/AP)

Hong Kong's secretary for security, John Lee, said Thursday's arrests and raid are "not related to normal journalistic work."

Lee went on to say that "normal journalistic work takes place lawfully and freely in Hong Kong," adding that the suspects used journalism to "further their criminal activities."

Veteran democrat Emily Lau called the arrests "very alarming and disturbing."

"The huge operation today has again sent out a chilling signal about the threat to press freedom and freedom of expression," Lau said.

MORE: Hong Kong residents defend free press as China cracks down

Media freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated in recent years, with increased censorship at the city's once outspoken public broadcaster RTHK.

Once ranked 18th in the world's press freedom index, Hong Kong is now 80th.

Although the odds appear stacked against them, Apple Daily has vowed to "press on."

"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," the letter read.

Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy paper Apple Daily and arrest 5, magnifying concerns over erosion of press freedom originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting