Hong Kong police raid sparks rush on newspapers

A woman buys a copy of Apple Daily newspaper at a news stand in Hong Kong, China, 18 June 2021.

Hong Kongers snapped up copies of Apple Daily, a day after police raided its newsroom

People in Hong Kong have queued up to buy copies of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily a day after its newsroom was raided by police.

The front page carried a message of defiance, reading: “We must press on.”

The paper typically prints about 80,000 copies but increased that to 500,000 to meet demand. Some news stands sold out.

The raid on the newspaper came as two of its executives were charged under Hong Kong’s controversial new national security law.

A total of five executives were arrested. Editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung were the two charged.

The other three, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai remain under investigation, police said.

Ms Chan was released on bail late on Friday. She told reporters outside the police station she was saddened by the charges against two of her colleagues and said she was proud of staff for publishing the newspaper earlier that day.

Mr Chow and Mr Cheung remain in police custody.

Apple Daily, a tabloid, is known for its bold criticism of the mainland Chinese leadership.

Its billionaire owner Jimmy Lai, a high-profile supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, is already in jail on a string of controversial charges, including allegedly participating in an unauthorised assembly in 2019.

Mr Lai is one of dozens of prominent activists arrested since Beijing introduced the national security law last year.

About 500 police officers descended on the Apple Daily newsroom on Thursday, carrying away computers and hard-drives. Police also froze HK$18m ($2.3m; £1.64m) of assets owned by three companies linked to the paper.

The paper broadcast live footage of the raid on its Facebook account. Police were seen sitting at desks accessing reporters’ computers.

In a media briefing, police said that since 2019, Apple Daily had published more than 30 articles calling on countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland China.

The push to complete Friday’s edition became a news story itself, with rival media outlets looking on as editors worked. The front page headline “we must press on” were the words Mr Cheung told staff as he was led away in handcuffs.

A proof reader surrounded by members of the media works in the newsroom of the Apple Daily newspaper on 17 June 2021

A proof reader at work on the day of the raid, documented by members of other media organisations

The front cover of Apple Daily on Friday 18 June, 2021 - featuring pictures of the five arrested staff members

The front page of Friday’s paper carried pictures of the five arrested staff members

In Mongkok district, Hong Kongers queued in the early hours for the first edition. “Usually we sell around 60 copies but tonight, we just sold 1,800,” one news stand owner told AFP news agency.

Apple Daily reported that “some bought 10 or 100 copies at one go to show their support, taking the stacks of papers with them using a trolley or a car”.

Customer Steven Chow, who bought three copies, observed: “There is no perfect media, but it [Apple Daily] is a unique voice in Hong Kong. You may not like it, but I think you need to let them have their voice and survive, it is important.”

It is unclear how long the paper can keep running after the latest asset freeze.

The UN’s chief human rights spokesperson, Rupert Colville, said on Friday that the newsroom raid sent “a further chilling message for media freedom”.

“We call on Hong Kong authorities to respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in line with the Basic Law, in particular freedom of expression,” he said.

Showing defiance, but for how long?

Martin Yip, BBC News Chinese, in Hong Kong

“I had Apple for breakfast,” an Instagram friend of mine wrote in a post. “Ate one early in the morning,” wrote another. Young people here showed off their copies of the edition. News stand agents told me a lot of young people had come to buy the paper – not their usual customers.

And the older generation did it their way. A pensioner who lives in the Yuen Long district bought 10 copies from a news stand and gave them out to passers-by. “I want to support Apple Daily, and then to support Hong Kong’s press freedom,” she told me.

Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s chief executive, has told his reporters to “press on”. But as the government freezes its bank accounts, the paper will find it hard to trade. They might eventually find it a problem just to collect money from newsagents.

In the longer run, Apple Daily could be disbanded if it is found guilty on charges against it and its two executives under controversial new national security law.

A reporter on Thursday asked Hong Kong’s secretary for security, John Lee if the government would make sure Apple Daily can no longer publish by 1 July – the anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China.

“If the law gives us authority to do whatever things, and it’s effective and legal, we would do so,” said Mr Lee, pledging to tackle any perceived threats to national security “with the strictest measures”.

That is less than a fortnight away.

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