Hong Kong police raided the offices of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday morning and arrested five executives under the city’s national security law, including its chief editor Ryan Law.
The arrests are the latest police operation targeting the popular tabloid and its now jailed owner Jimmy Lai.
The paper has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side and has unapologetically supported the financial hub’s pro-democracy movement.
Police said five executives were arrested “for collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”.
A police source confirmed to AFP that all five were executives from Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company.
Apple Daily said Law was among those arrested.
The paper broadcast live footage of the police raid on its Facebook account. Officers could be seen cordoning off the complex and walking through the building.
“They arrived around 7am this morning, our building is besieged,” an unnamed reporter said in a live commentary with the broadcast. “Now we can see them moving boxes of materials onto their truck.”
“Police are restricting us from using quite a lot of our equipment. But we can still keep this live camera on and our website will keep updating,” the voice added.
The security law introduced last June is the speartip of a sweeping crackdown on Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong since 2019’s huge democracy protests.
It has criminalised much dissent, given China jurisdiction over some cases and awarded authorities wide-ranging investigation powers.
Those convicted of a national security crime face up to life in prison and the majority are denied bail after arrest.
– Troubled times –
Thursday’s raid was the second on Apple Daily in less than a year.
Apple Daily’s billionaire owner Lai, 73, was charged with collusion after hundreds of officers searched the paper’s newsroom last August.
He is currently serving multiple jail sentences for attending various pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong two years ago.
Apple Daily has staunchly backed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy cause, including the huge and often violent protests that swept the international financial hub in 2019.
Beijing has made no secret of its desire to see the paper’s voice tamed, with state media routinely describing Lai as a “traitor” and a “black hand” and senior communist party officials declaring him guilty of national security crimes.
Last month, police used the national security law to freeze Lai’s bank accounts and his majority shares in Next Digital.
It was the first time Hong Kong authorities have used the law to freeze shares of a listed company’s majority shareholder.
More than 100 people have been arrested under the law, many of them the city’s best-known democracy activists. Others have fled overseas.
China says the law was needed to return stability to the financial hub.
Critics, including many western nations, say the crackdown has shredded Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain liberties and autonomy after its 1997 handover.
A shadow of fear has hung over the newsroom since Lai’s arrest with reporters and executives fearing further police action was in the works.
In an interview with AFP last month, chief editor Law struck a defiant tone.
He admitted that the paper was in “crisis” since the jailing of its owner but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing.
At a recent townhall meeting, staff asked Law what they should do if the police came back to arrest him.
He had a simple reply: “Broadcast it live.”