Hong Kong police arrest Apple Daily columnist on security charge

Cornelia Mascio
Giugno 23, 2021

Hong Kong's chief executive has justified police actions to freeze assets of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper on suspicion of violating the national security law for the region.

The security law, written in Beijing and imposed on Hong Kong last June, allows authorities to freeze assets of any individual or company in the global business hub that is deemed a security threat.

The paper's newsroom was raided by 200 police in August a year ago when owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, and again by 500 police last week when five other executives were detained.

Apple Daily said in an article on Sunday that it may challenge the decision to freeze its assets in court if the city's Security Bureau denies its request.

The city's justice secretary invoked the no jury clause for Tong's trial arguing that juror safety could be compromised in Hong Kong's febrile political landscape, a decision first revealed by AFP.

The newspaper is accused of conspiring with foreign countries to slap sanctions on China and Hong Kong over the territory's diminished autonomy - charges largely viewed as a pretext by authorities to muzzle dissent.

The arrest widens the police operation against Apple Daily, which is facing the threat of imminent closure.

The trial of the first person charged under the national security law in Hong Kong begins on Wednesday, nearly a year after he was charged with driving his motorbike into officers during a rally while carrying a flag with a protest slogan.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials have insisted that the media must abide by the law, and that press freedom can not be used as a shield for illegal activities.

Those three are still under investigation but were released from police detention.

Journalist groups in the city have said the action by police has sent a chill through the city's media and undermined Hong Kong's long history of press freedom.

Pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao published special pages on Wednesday, portraying Lai as a "dog-like animal", a "traitor" and a shoe-shiner doing the bidding of the United States.

But the national security law, which was penned in Beijing and imposed on Hong Kong previous year after huge and often violent democracy protests, allows for cases to be tried by three specially selected judges.

An adviser for Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong billionaire and founder of Next Digital, called the raid a "blatant attack". Secretary for Security will handle in accordance with the law any application related to the frozen property.

"Don't try to underplay the significance of breaching the national security law, and don't try to beautify these acts of endangering national security, which the foreign governments have taken so much to their heart", Lam said.

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