Editor-in-chief, 4 directors of Hong Kong's Apple Daily arrested in early morning raid

Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law was taken away by police from his residence in Quarry Bay on Thursday (June 17) morning.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s national security police arrested the editor-in-chief and four other directors of the Apple Daily tabloid early on Thursday (June 17) on suspicion of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces in the latest operation under the Beijing-imposed legislation .

Police said five directors, including four men and a woman aged between 47 and 63, were arrested for collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security, contravening Article 29 of the law. Searches were conducted on their respective residences, with none charged yet.

Sources told the Post the arrested were Cheung Kim-hung, group chief executive officer and executive director at Apple Daily parent Next Digital Limited; Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong; Next Digital chief financial officer Royston Chow Tat Kuen; Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui Man; and Apple Daily digital director Cheung Chi Wai.

“Reports published in the paper allegedly constituted the offence under the national security law,” one police source, who refused to elaborate, said.

At about 7am, more than 200 officers entered the Tseung Kwan O premises of the news outlet to carry out a search with a court warrant. They then blocked the building’s entrances and exits, while requesting that all staff register before entering the premises.

More than 200 police raided Apple Daily’s offices on Thursday morning.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Journalists, however, were not allowed to return their desks, as employees were restricted to the canteen. They were also barred from live-streaming the raid or taking video.

All five of those arrested were to be escorted to the offices to assist in the investigation, according to a police source.

“This place is now a crime scene, and you should stop recording,” an officer told reporters outside.

In a statement, police said the national security law covers the power of search and seizure in regard to journalistic materials and that the operation was aimed at gathering evidence of its suspected contravention.

Hong Kong national security police search inside the offices of Apple Daily on Thursday morning.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

At about the same time the raid was taking place, Law, the editor-in-chief, was seen being taken away by police from his residence in Quarry Bay’s Kornhill housing estate.

Cheung Kim Hung, meanwhile, was picked up from his flat at the Mei Foo Sun Chuen estate in Cheung Sha Wan; Chow was arrested at a South Horizon flat in Ap Lei Chau; Chan Pui-man was detained at her Ocean Shores unit in Tseung Kwan O; and Cheung Chi Wai was arrested at his home in Sai Kung. 

In the wake of the arrests, at 8.46am, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing posted a notice that trading in Next Digital would be suspended for the day.

The morning operation marks the second series of arrests involving senior executives at the newspaper. Last August, the force arrested the group’s founder, Jimmy Lai Chee Ying, and nine others, including his son, for suspected national security or fraud offences.

Apple Daily’s founder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested on national security charges last August. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Lai is currently behind bars for his role in three separate unauthorised assemblies in 2019 and last year. Since Lai was sentenced in April, speculation has grown that the days are numbered for Apple Daily, the tabloid he launched in 1995.

In April, the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper published a commentary, saying the tabloid should be banned, considering its long-standing role in promoting “Hong Kong independence”.

The commentary specifically singled out an April 15 article reporting on a pro-independence groups’ outdoor advertising campaign in London, saying it was more “like a publicity draft of a Hong Kong independence organisation” than a news story.

“Has such a report crossed the boundaries of the national security law?” the commentator asked.

Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun Ying also took to his social media account in May to ask if Apple Daily had turned into a subversive organisation by distributing protest slogans in copies of the tabloid during 2019’s social unrest .

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Apple Daily was dealt a major blow last month after the authorities, making use of powers granted under the national security law, ordered Lai’s shares in Next Digital to be frozen , along with assets in the local bank accounts of three companies he owned.

The newspaper reported that Lai had signed four agreements with Next Digital allowing the company to borrow up to HK$756 million (S$130 million) from him personally. As of last September, it had borrowed HK$500 million. 

Next Digital has maintained the company’s operations would not be affected and Apple Daily would be published as usual. 

In late May, Next Digital said the group’s unaudited bank and cash balances as of March 31 stood at HK$521.4 million, enough to last at least 18 months from April 1 this year, even without additional funding from Lai.

It also said the asset freeze had no impact on the standing shareholder’s loan Lai had provided to the company and its subsidiaries.

According to Next Digital’s 2019-20 annual report, Apple Daily sold about 88,700 copies a day, compared with 102,500 the previous year. The group reported a loss of HK$417.2 million in the 2019-20 annual report. It reportedly sold about 400,000 copies a day back in 1997.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.