Five hundred Hong Kong police officers sifted through reporters’ computers and notebooks at pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Thursday, the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law.
Around dawn, police arrested five executives of the newspaper, and officers were later seen sitting at computers in the newsroom after entering with a warrant to seize journalistic materials, including from reporters’ phones and laptops.
The raid is the latest blow to media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the tabloid’s owner and a staunch Beijing critic, whose assets have been frozen under the security law and who is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
In comments raising further alarm over media freedoms in Hong Kong, Security Secretary John Lee described the newsroom as a “crime scene” and said the operation was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool to endanger” national security.
He did not elaborate on the dozens of articles police said they were taking aim, at but said the five were arrested for a conspiracy to make “use of journalistic work” to incite foreign forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
“Normal journalists are different from these people. Don’t collude with them,” he told reporters.
“Do your journalistic work as freely as you like in accordance with the law, provided you do not conspire or have any intention to break … the national security law.”
Senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah said the tabloid’s reports dated back to 2019, without saying when the most recent were published. The legislation is not retrospective but prosecutors can use actions from before its implementation as evidence.
Police have also frozen HK$18 million ($2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to Apple Daily and said that the raid was not aimed at the media industry as a whole.
In a letter to its readers, Apple Daily said that it was the victim of a “targeted attack by the regime,” but that its staff “will continue to stick to their posts loyally and fight to the end.”
Police seized 38 computers used by its reporters, Apple Daily said.
It was the second time national security police have raided the Apple Daily headquarters; 200 officers went in last year to arrest Lai on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.