CPJ condemns arrest of Hong Kong journalists

Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday

Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong Thursday

Hong Kong police declared the Apple Daily newspaper office a crime scene Thursday, after 500 officers descended on the premises to arrest executives and top editors and seize journalistic materials under the city's national security law.

It's the second time Hong Kong police force have targeted Apple Daily under the law, after police arrested and detained the paper's founder, Jimmy Lai, and other executives previous year.

"Freedom of the press is not a "shield" for illegal activities", the Chinese government's Liaison Office said in a statement.

The Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR later voiced firm support for the police's law enforcement action.

The unprecedented move to arrest senior editors at a major newspaper - and warn other journalists to watch what they write - has rattled a city that has seen Beijing swiftly erode basic freedoms in the former British colony since historic street protests in 2019.

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 can not undermine the "bottom line of national security".

"Those arrested are all directors of Apple Daily so they are very familiar with the company's daily operations", senior superintendent Steve Li told reporters.

Despite the latest setbacks, Lam Man-chung, executive editor-in-chief of Apple Daily, said reporters and staff will "exert utmost efforts to publish the newspaper as usual", the publication reported in an online story. "They are arresting journalists now".

Local media said the editor-in-chief of Apple Daily and CEO of Next Digital were among those arrested.

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Lai, who founded Next Digital, has been the most high-profile target of the government's push against democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

The five executives were arrested "for collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security".

Hong Kong's stock exchange said trading in shares of Next Digital - the publisher of the newspaper - had been halted.

The National Security Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) police on Thursday arrested five directors of a company for suspected contravention of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (national security law), police said in a statement. It punishes anything Beijing deems as subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

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. But China's increasing grip over the city, cemented in its imposition of the national security law a year ago, has tarnished that reputation. It is the second time that Hong Kong's police force have conducted an operation on Apple Daily, with police arresting founder Jimmy Lai and other executives previous year on suspicion of national security law violations or fraud.

The legislation outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion and has been used to arrest over 100 pro-democracy figures since it was first implemented a year ago, with many others fleeing overseas. A person streaming a live feed for Apple Daily's Facebook page said reporters were prevented from accessing certain floors or getting their equipment or notebooks.

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

In May, Reuters reported that Hong Kong's security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years in jail for any dealings with the billionaire's accounts in the city.

"Hong Kong has been left with little free speech under the national security law, which is really aimed at silencing all dissent", said Victoria Hui, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. The result is that it has virtually silenced opposition voices in the city - and drawn sanctions from the USA against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.

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