Outcry over ‘chilling’ effect of Hong Kong media arrests for ‘foreign collusion’

Domestic News

Media is the new target of national security law enforcement in Hong Kong. A day after 500 police officers raided the newsroom of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily and arrested five executives, two were charged with foreign collusion.

two frozen apples
Illustration by Derek Zheng

In the past few weeks, Hong Kong authorities have taken significant new steps to enforce the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing a year ago.

Media is the new target: After a court last month extended the jail time for media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英 Lí Zhìyīng) to 20 months, the newsroom of his pro-democracy tabloid, Apple Daily, was raided by 500 officers yesterday, Reuters reports.

  • Five editors and executives were accused of “colluding with foreign powers,” in what the AP noted was the “first time the legislation has been used against the press.”
  • Two Apple Daily executives were charged today with foreign collusion, per Reuters: editor-in-chief Ryan Law (罗伟光 Luó Wěiguāng) and chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung (張劍虹 Zhāng Jiànhóng). The other three were released on bail.
  • The arrests follow expanded film censorship guidelines published last week that direct local censors to bar from screening any movie, whether foreign or domestic and even regardless of content, if they feel its showing could endanger national security as defined by Beijing.

At issue are more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily that police say had violated the national security law by calling for foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

  • Police confirmed that some were “published before the security law was enacted in June last year, although it is not supposed to be retroactive,” AFP reports.
  • Concerns over retroactive application of the law had been raised last month after a judge cited old WhatsApp conversations between a former pro-democracy legislator and foreign reporters as evidence they “presented a risk of committing national security offenses if freed,” the Guardian noted.

Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong praised the arrests yesterday in a statement (in Chinese), calling the police action an “act of justice” (正义之举 zhèngyì zhī jǔ).

The police raid on Apple Daily sent “a further chilling message for media freedom,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Reuters.

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