by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Ko Wen-je/Facebook

THE APPLE DAILY was raided by police today, with five executives of the media organization arrested. 

Among those detained are the paper’s chief editor, Ryan Law, the CEO of the Apple Daily’s publisher, Cheung Kim-hung, chief operating officer Chow Tat Kuen, deputy chief editor Chan Puiman and chief executive editor Cheung Chi-wai. Apple Daily owner, wealthy entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, was already in jail over charges related to participating in protests that took place in 2019. 

The police raid involved 500 police being sent to the paper’s newsroom, which was declared a crime scene. Police seized 38 computers. A previous raid of the Apple Daily’s office involving 200 police officers took place in August of last year. Police searched Apple Daily computers, with it believed that they may have been targeting specific articles of the paper. Some of the homes of the arrested editors were also searched. 

Livestream of the police raid posted on Apple Daily’s Facebook page

18 million HKD in assets belonging to the newspaper have been frozen. This follows up on Lai’s assets having been frozen in May, with bankers threatened with up to seven years of jail time for dealing with his assets.

Despite the raid, the Apple Daily has stated that it intends to continue publishing; indeed, the outlet has itself reported on the police raid. Some journalists for the newspaper were photographed working on cell phones, due to being unable to access their computers because of the raid. The Apple Daily livestreamed police entering the premises on its Facebook.

The Apple Daily is not the only media outlet in Hong Kong to continue operating despite increasing restrictions; public broadcaster RTHK increasingly faces internal pressures to self-censor and delete past archives, with some programs having already been deleted. Journalists working for RTHK having de facto been fired through not having their contracts renewed, or faced fines for accessing public databases commonly used for reporting, as occurred to freelancer Bao Choy. That being said, RTHK has itself reported on the increasing media restrictions that it itself faces.

The five senior staff members of the Apple Daily that were arrested are accused of inciting foreign forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong through their journalism. This is an unusual accusation which may be increasingly be used to target journalists in Hong Kong with the claim that they are working in collusion with foreign forces, a claim that was already used against participants in the protests that erupted in Hong Kong since 2019. 

It is possible that this charge will be used to target more journalists and outlets going forward, taking advantage of the fact that international governments have imposed sanctions on Hong Kong in response to the deteriorating political freedoms there with the claim that this hurts China. But, as such sanctions could affect regular Hongkongers, this may be used as part of efforts to turn Hongkongers against pro-democracy media outlets. 

Significantly, following the raid, TVB and other outlets reported that police issued a deadline to the Apple Daily to remove articles that it claims are intended to push for foreign sanctions. This is also new behavior, seeing as the Hong Kong government has not previously forced media outlets to delete articles after police raids. 

Statement by Apple Daily deputy chief editor Chan Puiman during her arrest

More generally, the Hong Kong government previously claimed that national security legislation passed by China’s National People’s Congress in a process that circumvented the Hong Kong legislative system would not be retroactive. Yet as one sees with the police raid on the Apple Daily today, with police citing 2019 articles against the newspaper, this has not been the case. And it is probable police will not only act to carry out retroactive charges, but that policing actions will carried out regarding articles that have not yet been published. This may be carried out not only against the Apple Daily, but other smaller outlets, with police likely hoping to establishments precedents under the national security law that can be drawn on in the future. 

In the meantime, as the crackdown on Hong Kong’s domestic media continues. With moves against Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong, leading to its closure, and past actions by the Hong Kong government aimed at driving out reporters for western outlets, it is also possible that Taiwanese media operating in Hong Kong may come under scrutiny. 

That being said, with the worsening press environment in Hong Kong, it is probable that the situation there will come to gradually resemble Taiwan under martial law, in which a number of underground media outlets operated in spite of crackdowns from authorities—including newspapers, pirate radio stations, and even underground television stations. Although, among pro-democracy outlets, the Apple Daily had sufficient resources to operate as a print newspaper, increasing restrictions on media freedoms will probably lead to a shift to online media platforms.

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