Apple Daily’s Headquarters Raided, Executives Arrested, Computers Seized

Apple Daily struck a defiant note after Hong Kong police raided its headquarters, arrested its executives, froze its bank accounts, and seized its journalists’ computers: “[we will] press on till the end to see the arrival of dawn.” Early on Thursday morning, hundreds of police officers entered Apple Daily’s headquarters and arrested the company’s CEO, COO, and leading editors, notably Ryan Law, on charges of colluding with foreign powers and using journalism as “a tool to endanger national security.” The sweeping arrests follow a long pressure campaign against the paper and its leaders since the passage of the National Security Law last year. In August 2020, Apple Daily’s headquarters were raided by police and the paper’s owner, Jimmy Lai, was arrested on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces.” Lai potentially faces life in prison for national security crimes and has already been convicted on lesser charges of illegal assembly for leading a peaceful march in 2019. In May 2021, a reporter at Apple Daily told Su Xinqi of the AFP, “The morale is rather bad… It feels like something is approaching us.” The long-dreaded moment has arrived. At The New York Times, Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May covered the details of the raid and its implications for Hong Kong’s once independent media scene:

The raid and new restrictions were the most aggressive use yet of Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law, imposed last year by Beijing, against a media outlet, and could put the newspaper’s survival in question. The operation was a sharp escalation in the authorities’ intensifying frontal assault on media outlets in Hong Kong, a former British colony once known for its vibrant media scene and broad free-speech protections.

[…] Apple Daily continued to report on the raid even as police officers declared the newsroom a crime scene. When police officers prevented the reporters from livestreaming the raid from inside the office and forced them to leave, the paper set up a camera on the building’s roof that watched the operation from a distance. Once they were allowed to return to their seats, reporters whose desktop computers had been seized wrote articles on their mobile phones instead.

[…] “Apple Daily vows to carry on and publish as usual,” one headline read. The paper said it would print 500,000 copies on Friday, several times its average daily circulation of about 90,000.

[…] But the newspaper acknowledged its fate was out of its hands. “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless,” the Apple Daily said in a letter to its readers, posted on its website. “It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.” [Source]

On Twitter, journalists shared images and videos of the raid and its aftermath: (print tomorrow)

At The Associated Press, Zen Soo provided further detail on the raid:

Trading in shares of Next Digital was halted Thursday morning at the request of the company, according to filings with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

[…] Apple Daily published a letter to its readers, saying that police had confiscated many items during the search, including 38 computers that contained “considerable” journalistic material.

[…] [Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairman Chris Yeung] said that the court warrant that allowed police to search the offices of Apple Daily had undermined journalists’ ability to protect their materials, a vital part of upholding press freedom. [Source]

At The Guardian, Helen Davidson reported on comments from Hong Kong’s national security police that alleged an unspecified “conspiracy”:

Senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah, the head of the police’s national security division, said there was “very strong evidence that the questionable articles played a very crucial part in the conspiracy, which provided ammunition for foreign countries, institutions and organisations to impose sanctions”, adding that those arrested played “a very important role” in their publication.

The articles reportedly date back to 2019. Authorities have made repeated assurances since the implementation of the controversial and wide-ranging national security law in June 2020 that it was not retroactive.

Lee refused to say what form the offending articles took – news reports or opinion – or to answer long-running concerns over how the national security law applies to media. [Source]

One source told the South China Morning Post that many of the implicated pieces were commentaries and opinion pieces penned by Jimmy Lai and other writers working under pen names. At The Wall Street Journal, Elaine Yu reported that the raid on Apple Daily is intended to intimidate Hong Kong’s press into self-censorship:

John Lee, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, told reporters that the operation targeted acts that weren’t related to “normal journalistic work” but used the news as a tool to endanger national security. He sent a wider chill through the city by warning people, including reporters, not to align themselves with the arrested executives and journalists.

“You will pay a heavy price by associating with these criminals,” Mr. Lee said, calling for people to cut ties with them before it’s too late. Some of these offenses could be punishable by life in prison, he added.

[…] “The government is issuing a warning to the whole news media to stay behind the red lines of the national security law, but it isn’t showing them exactly where those red lines are,” [Yuen Chan, a senior lecturer at the department of journalism at City, University of London] said, adding it will create fear and fuel self-censorship. [Source]

At Reuters James Pomfret and Jessie Pang reported on Apple Daily’s struggles on the eve of the raid and an anonymous official’s interpretation of the mainland government’s mindset:

Morale suffered, and a handful of staffers quit. Town hall meetings were held to reassure staff and contingency plans laid. Most staff received cards with lawyer contacts and assurances the company would back everyone legally. News materials were firewalled or sent abroad to protect information and sources.

On the business side, with the company struggling financially and facing uncertainties over its building lease, non-core media businesses such as a charity fund run by Lai were moved to separate offices, [Mark] Simon and another senior staffer said.

[…] “In China’s mind, anything could endanger national interests, so they tighten everything,” said a government official who deals with media issues. “And until everything is settled, they won’t relax the process.” [Source]

Mark Simon, long Jimmy Lai’s right-hand man until he resigned for his involvement in a dossier compiled on President Joe Biden’s son, told NPR that “There is huge frustration that Apple Daily won’t stop,” and vowed to continue publishing. In a statement, the Next Media Trade Union, which represents Apple Daily’s journalists, said: “This is a blatant violation of freedom of press in the name of national security. We would like to reiterate: journalism is not a crime.”

The blatantly political nature of the arrests was underscored after the government dropped charges against a reporter from the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao after he was arrested for making false statements regarding his access to a government car registry. Freelance journalist Bao Choy was fined HK$6,000 for the same crime in April—seemingly in retaliation for her work identifying the perpetrators on the July 21, 2019 subway mob attack. Hong Kong has dropped to 80 out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, down from 13 in 2002.

While Apple Daily is beloved for its brave reporting, its occasionally right-wing political leanings have complicated its legacy among some Hong Kong activists. Kevin Yam’s essay “On Love and Hate for Apple Daily,” which was published in Apple Daily, captures the “love-hate relationship” that many feel for the paper:

[…] As a typical “progressive” on the current Western political spectrum (and which some Hong Kongers might derogatorily refer to as a zo2 gaau1 [a.k.a. baizuo], but that’s for another time), I have a love-hate relationship with Apple Daily.

Let me start with the easier-to-describe “love.” Apple Daily has been doing its best to defend Hong Kong’s core principles of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law over the years. This is well known, and I need not say more. And in recent years, they have endured wave after wave of oppression, persisting without fear, and only deepening my love for it. […]

Since there is so much “love,” where does the “hate” come from? Apart from Apple Daily’s persistent stance on major moral issues, their stories often have the flavor of Western right-wing populist media. When they report on international news, they chase after people who claim to “stand with Hong Kong” but who attack democracy and human rights at home—far-right politicians who may even be pushing conspiracy theories. When they interview vulnerable groups, like foreign domestic helpers or asylum seekers, they are often derogatory, or disregard their views. From time to time, their classism is revealed in phrases like “housing estate boy” or “housing estate girl.” They often disparage women’s dress and appearance, as if they loathed women altogether.

For progressives, all this seems to contradict the core values that Apple Daily bravely defends. Of course, all of these contradictions actually only reflect the incongruities on these issues prevalent in mainstream Hong Kong society, and Apple Daily follows public opinion according to market forces. But as the only remaining pro-democracy, “yellow ribbon” print newspaper, does Apple Daily not have some responsibility to reject populist routes, and educate readers on nuances of living out universal values?

But please don’t mistake my “hate” for Apple Daily as greater than my “love.” It’s just that people have written more than enough about their “love” for Apple Daily over the years. At the end of the day, with the space for free speech in Hong Kong gradually narrowing and mainstream media becoming more pro-Party, we should be grateful that Hong Kong and Apple Daily continue to persist and speak out on behalf of the people every day. Although some of the paper’s values are debatable in terms of human rights and justice, its general direction is still worthy of our respect and needs our support. [Chinese]

Translation by John Chan.


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