Shanghai, China, Jun 18 (EFE).- The owner and director of Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, openly critical of the Chinese government, were accused of conspiring with foreign entities under a national security law imposed last year by Beijing, local press reported Friday.
Director Ryan Law, and Editor Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital – were arrested Thursday along with three other group executives released on bail while police investigations continue.
In a statement, the Hong Kong government confirmed the arrest of two people — although it did not reveal their identities, unlike local newspapers such as South China Morning Post — for alleged crimes which could have “endangered national security.”
According to article 29 of these regulations, those guilty of serious conspiracy crimes with foreign forces can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Both detainees will appear Saturday morning in a local court.
According to local police, Apple Daily published “dozens” of articles — among them, some opinion pieces signed by the now imprisoned founder of the newspaper, Jimmy Lai, one of the best known figures of the Hong Kong pro-democratic opposition. Authorities said this would prove the newspaper conspired with foreign forces or elements.
At least 30 of them were published on paper or on the Apple Daily website since the national security law was imposed in June last year.
Up to 500 agents participated in the raids that began Thursday at 06:00 local time (22:00 GMT Wednesday) in the homes of the five detainees, while another 200 officers went to the newspaper’s office with a court order that allowed them to seize journalistic material.
For now, the operation has resulted in the freezing of some 2.3 million dollars distributed in a dozen bank accounts belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily and with the seizure of more than 40 devices such as computers or hard drives.
Chinese state newspaper Global Times, a subsidiary of the official People’s Daily, reported Friday about the possible closure of the newspaper — which it claims was “disguising itself as a ‘freedom of expression fighter'” — given the financial difficulties it would face..
While Apple Daily itself and international organizations such as Amnesty International have denounced the raids and arrests as a “new attack on press freedom,” local authorities said the operation is part of a conspiracy case and is not linked with the work of the media or journalists.
“Normal journalistic work is carried out with freedom and respect for the law in Hong Kong,” said Security Secretary John Lee, adding that local journalists should “do [their] journalistic work as freely as [they] wish, according to the law and assuming that [they] do not conspire or have intentions to violate Hong Kong law, much less the National Security Law.”
Meanwhile, Apple Daily supporters flocked to newsstands Friday, in many cases buying more than one copy to show support for the newspaper, which printed one of its largest runs — more than 500,000 copies — since its founding in 1995. EFE