Great Britain

Hong Kong: Apple Daily staff treat ‘every day like it is our last’ as leaders appear in court

Two executives from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily have appeared in court, charged with collusion after authorities deployed a sweeping national security law to target the newspaper critical of Beijing.

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung are accused of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.

It is the first time the political views and opinion published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law, imposed last year by Beijing to stamp out dissent in the financial hub.

Dozens of supporters queued on Saturday to get seats in court, including many former and current employees of Apple Daily. One staff member, who gave her surname as Chang, said she and many other employees treat “every day like it is our last” working for the paper. “At first, authorities said the national security law would only target a tiny number of people,” she said. “But what has happened showed us that is nonsense.”

Another staff reporter, who gave her first name as Theresa, said she felt Apple Daily’s legal troubles were a warning shot. “I think what has happened to Apple Daily today can eventually happen to every other news outlet in the city,” she said.

Apple Daily and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long angered Beijing with their support for the city’s pro-democracy movement and criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.

More than 500 police officers raided the paper’s newsroom on Thursday, carting away computers, hard drives and reporters’ notepads. Five executives were also arrested. Law and Cheung were charged on Friday while the three others were released on bail pending further investigations.

Well known pro-democracy protester Grandma Wong is dragged away by police inside the court grounds in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Well known pro-democracy protester Grandma Wong is dragged away by police inside the court grounds in Hong Kong on Saturday. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Multiple international media companies have regional headquarters in Hong Kong, attracted to the business-friendly regulations and free speech provisions written into the city’s mini-constitution.

But many are now questioning whether they have a future there and are drawing up contingency plans as Beijing presses on with a broad crackdown on dissent in the city.

Local media have a tougher time, with journalist associations saying reporters are increasingly having to self-censor.

Hong Kong has steadily plunged down an annual press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, from 18th in 2002 to 80th this year. Mainland China languishes 177th out of 180, above only Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the arrests were not an attack on the media. Apple Daily is by far the most outspoken of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media outlets. Earlier this week, security secretary John Lee described Apple Daily as a “criminal syndicate”.

Pro-democracy activists holding a copy of Apple Daily newspaper and banner protest outside court in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Pro-democracy activists holding a copy of Apple Daily newspaper and banner protest outside court in Hong Kong on Saturday. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Its wealthy owner Lai, 73, is serving multiple jail sentences for his involvement in democracy rallies in 2019. He has also been charged under the national security law and has had his Hong Kong assets frozen.

Authorities froze a further HK$18m (US$2.3m) of Apple Daily’s company assets on Thursday. Police say they also plan to prosecute three companies owned by Apple Daily under the security law, which could see the paper fined or banned.

It is the first time companies, rather than an individual, have faced a national security investigation.

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