Apple Daily will persist in Hong Kong, even though press freedom is “hanging by a thread,” said the local newspaper in an open letter to readers on Thursday after 500 police raided its headquarters and arrested five of its staff in the morning.
Hong Kong police confiscated a large number of journalistic materials and electronic devices, including 38 computers and cell phones belonging to journalists, after a five-hour raid of the local pro-democracy newspaper on Thursday morning. The journalistic documents were labeled as evidence of a “crime” under Beijing’s national security law.
Two executives and three news staff, who were arrested early on Thursday morning at their homes, were charged with violating Article 29: “collusion with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.”
The paper’s associate publisher Chan Pui-man, CEO Cheung Kim-hung, and chief editor Ryan Law were among the five arrested on Thursday morning.
Apple Daily told readers the 26-year-old paper “faces an unprecedented crackdown by the regime,” as it marks the second time police raid the newsroom after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong. Last August, the headquarters was raided by 200 Hong Kong police. The paper’s founder Jimmy Lai is currently in prison and facing allegations of violating the national security law.
The freedom of speech in Hong Kong is “hanging by a thread,” said the publication in an open letter to readers.
“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 letter continued.
The Hong Kong government has frozen $18 million HKD (approximately $2.32 million) in assets related to the newspaper, which was owned by Apple Daily, Apple Publishing & A.D. Internet Limited.
The latest move is expected to impact the company’s cash flow. Next Digital Limited, the holding company of Apple Daily, has suspended trading at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange since 9 a.m. today.
A Chilling Effect
On Thursday afternoon, senior superintendent Steve Li of the Hong Kong police’s national security department said the charges against Apply Daily are linked to articles published since 2019, which called on foreign governments to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong government.
But the Security Secretary John Lee refused to elaborate on the “indicted” articles or disclose other details related to the charges.
Kelvin Sin Cheuk-nam, Hong Kong Democratic Party’s deputy spokesperson for broadcasting policy, said the arrests and raid amplified a chilling effect on local media.
He said the public is confused about how the reports “incite foreign forces,” as the scope of the national security law is too ambiguous.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman, Chris Yeung, described the press freedom in Hong Kong as “scary beyond description.”
Yeung worried that “the public who will feel unsafe and uneasy talking to the media” since “there had been no protection to journalistic materials.”
“Self-censorship will get worse if journalists are not sure whether they are able to protect their sources of information,” Yeung said.
But despite the crackdown, there were some signs of defiance at Apple Daily.
The husband of Chan Pui-man said on Facebook that Chen had the assistance of a lawyer. He said Chen is “strong and calm” and expressed gratitude to the publics’ concern and greetings.
“Nevertheless, the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm,” Apple Daily said in the open letter.
“History will pass judgment on today’s accusations against Apple Daily.”
“Though we are facing a sweeping clampdown on our publication, the staff of Apple Daily will hold fast to our duties faithfully and press on till the end to see the arrival of dawn,” the publication in its conclusion.