The day after their indictment under a national security law, two officials of the pro-democracy daily Apple Daily, very critical of Beijing, appeared Saturday, June 19 before a court in Hong Kong, which refused their release on bail. Ryan Law, editor, and Cheung Kim-hung, managing director, are sued for “Collusion with a foreign country or with external elements with a view to endangering national security” due to a series of articles.
Judge Victor So found that there were insufficient reasons “So that the court thinks that the defendants will not continue to commit acts endangering national security”. More than 500 police officers raided the premises of the popular opposition tabloid Thursday and took away computers, hard drives and journalists’ notebooks. Five officials were arrested. Two have been charged, while the other three have been released on bail pending further investigation.
Several dozen people, including former and current employees of the newspaper, lined up in court on Saturday morning to try to attend the hearing and support the two officials. According to an employee who identified herself simply by her last name, Chang, many employees atApple Daily, of which herself, consider “Every day as if it were our last” working at the newspaper. “At first, the authorities assured that the national security law would only target a small number of people”, she said. “But what happened shows us that it was rubbish. “
This is the first time that political opinions published by a Hong Kong news outlet have led to prosecution under the controversial law imposed by China in 2020 in an attempt to quell dissent in the former British colony. The newspaper and its owner, Jimmy Lai, currently in prison, have long spurred Beijing on, steadfastly supporting the pro-democracy movement and sharply criticizing the Chinese leadership.
A journalist who gave only her first name, Theresa, said the newspaper’s legal problems were a wake-up call: “I think what happens to theApple Daily today can finally get to any other media in town. “
Many international media have set up their Asian headquarters in Hong Kong, attracted by pro-business regulations and constitutionally enshrined free speech provisions. But many are now questioning its continued presence and making contingency plans, as Beijing tightens its grip on the former British colony with a broad crackdown on dissent.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have assured that the arrests do not constitute an attack on the media. But Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee this week called Apple Daily from “Criminal union”. The newspaper’s survival is uncertain. Jimmy Lai, its 73-year-old wealthy owner, was sentenced to several prison terms for his involvement in pro-democracy protests in 2019.
He was also indicted under the National Security Law and his assets in Hong Kong have been frozen. Authorities did the same on Thursday with $ 2.3 million in assets fromApple Daily. Police say prosecution – still under this legislation – are also planned against three companies owned by the newspaper, which could be fined or banned.
The local media are living even darker hours. Journalists’ associations say reporters must increasingly censor themselves. Hong Kong is gradually slipping down the annual ranking of the NGO Reporters Without Borders on press freedom, dropping from 18e place in 2002 at the 80e this year. Mainland China is 177e, out of 180 countries classified.