HONG KONG — A day after police detained five senior editors and executives and froze $2.3 million in assets under the national security statute, Hong Kong pro-democracy Newspaper Apple Daily boosted its print run to 500,000 copies on Friday as people expressed support for the besieged press freedom.
The raid on the paper’s offices, which was followed by arrests on Thursday, was the first time Beijing’s sweeping national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong last year, was used against the media, which is one of the few symbols of civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city that does not exist elsewhere in China.
The editors were detained on suspicion of foreign collaboration to damage national security, according to police, based on over 30 articles that advocated for international sanctions against China and Hong Kong, according to authorities.
According to a government statement, the National Security Department accused two men on Friday of collaboration with a foreign country to threaten national security. On Saturday, the two will appear in court.
They are Apply Daily’s chief editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung, the CEO of Apple Daily’s publisher Next Digital, according to the South China Morning Post, which cited an anonymous source. The other three were being held in custody pending an investigation.
People scooped up copies at newsstands and convenience stores when anti-government rallies were put down, most of the city’s famous pro-democracy activists were arrested, and many more fled overseas.
“There are already a lot of injustices in Hong Kong. “I believe there are a lot of things we can no longer do,” said Lisa Cheung, a local. “The only thing we can do is buy a copy. When the law no longer protects Hong Kong residents, we have no choice but to do what we can.”
The five editors and executives were taken away in handcuffs on the front page of Friday’s issue. Police also seized 44 hard discs containing news footage. “Hang in there, everyone,” Cheung, the arrested CEO of Next Digital, urged.
William Chan, another local, said he bought a copy of the newspaper to show his support.
“It was such an arbitrary arrest that stifled journalistic freedom,” he added.
The national security law was enacted after huge demonstrations in 2019 called for more democratic freedoms, challenging Beijing’s leadership. Subversion, secession, terrorism, and collaboration with other governments are all prohibited. Serious criminals face a potential sentence of life in prison.
On Thursday, Security Minister John Lee issued a warning to fellow journalists to keep their distance from individuals under investigation at Apple Daily. Those detained, he claimed, had exploited their journalistic work to jeopardize national security, and anybody who was “in cahoots” with them would pay a high price.
While the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, protects freedoms of expression and press, such rights cannot jeopardize the “bottom line of national security,” according to the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, which issued a statement Thursday supporting police action.
The liaison office stated, “Freedom of the press is not a shield for criminal acts.”
The United States strongly denounced the arrests, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, and demanded that the five people detained to be released immediately. He also demanded that the Hong Kong government cease harassing independent and free media.
“We are very disturbed by Hong Kong authorities’ selective application of national security law to unfairly target independent media organizations,” Price said, adding that the allegations of foreign cooperation appear to be politically motivated.
“As we all know, in journalism, sharing viewpoints with outsiders should never be a crime,” he added.
When Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed in a tweet that one of the rights China committed to maintaining for 50 years was freedom of the press.
The arrests, according to European Union spokesperson Nabila Massrali, “further illustrate how Hong Kong’s National Security Law is being exploited to restrict media freedom and freedom of expression.”
Apple Daily has promised its readers that it would keep reporting, and on Thursday night invited members of the press to witness its Friday issue roll off the presses as a gesture of support.
Jimmy Lai, the organization’s founder, is now serving a 20-month prison sentence for his role in unlawful demonstrations in 2019. The daily circulation of the publication has been approximately 86,000 copies on average.