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Share Price: 395.10
Bid: 395.10
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Change: -5.90 (-1.47%)
Spread: 0.20 (0.05%)
Open: 396.70
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Yest. Close: 401.00
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UPDATE 10-HK's Apple Daily raided by 500 officers over national security law

Thu, 17th Jun 2021 01:30

(Adds U.S. and European reaction)

By Sara Cheng and Sharon Abratique

HONG KONG, June 17 (Reuters) - 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.

The raid drew condemnation from the United States and
Europe.

The European Union and Britain said it showed China was
using the national security law to crack down on dissent and
silence the media rather than deal with public security.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United
States was "deeply concerned by Hong Kong authorities' selective
use of the national security law to arbitrarily target
independent media organizations."

"The charges of 'collusion with a foreign country or with
external elements to endanger national security' appear to be
entirely politically motivated," he added.

In comments raising further alarm over media freedoms in
Hong Kong, the territory's 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 at which
police said they were taking aim, 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 readers, Apple Daily said it was the victim
of a "targeted attack by the regime," but its staff "will
continue to stick to their posts loyally and fight to the end."

It said police seized 38 computers used by reporters.

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.

Lai has been in detention since December, denied bail under
the security law and serving several sentences for taking part
in unauthorised rallies, including during the global financial
hub's mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The security law was Beijing's first major move to set
China's most restive city on an authoritarian path. It punishes
anything Beijing deems as subversion, secessionism, terrorism
and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The five arrested were editor-in-chief Ryan Law, chief
executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, Chief Operating Officer Chow
Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive
Editor Cheung Chi-wai.

"This is a blatant attack on the editorial side of Apple
Daily," Mark Simon, an adviser to Lai who is outside Hong Kong,
told Reuters. "They're arresting the top editorial folks."

Asked how long he thinks the newspaper can survive, Simon
said: "They decide, not us," referring to authorities.

'ORWELLIAN' LAW

Pictures published by Apple Daily showed police sitting at
reporters' desks and using their computers. A person streaming a
live feed for Apple Daily's Facebook page said reporters were
prevented from accessing certain floors or getting their
equipment or notebooks.

Chief editor Law was seen walking in handcuffs, flanked by
police officers. The paper's general news desk told reporters in
a text message seen by Reuters to carry on with their
assignments outside the building for the time being.

Authorities last month ordered the freezing of Lai's shares
in Next Digital, publisher of the newspaper.

In May, Reuters reported that Hong Kong's security chief
sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank
threatening up to seven years in jail for any dealings with the
billionaire's accounts in the city.

Apple Daily is an unapologetic tabloid founded 26 years ago
that mixes pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and
investigations of those in power, and is popular in Hong Kong.

"The arrests ... under Hong Kong’s Orwellian National
Security Law destroy any remaining fiction that Hong Kong
supports freedom of the press," said Steven Butler, Committee to
Protect Journalists' Asia program coordinator.

"China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to eliminate
the paper, which it sees as an annoying critic, but only at a
steep price to be paid by the people of Hong Kong, who had
enjoyed decades of free access to information," he added.
(Reporting by Sharon Tam, Sharon Abratique, Sara Cheng, Clare
Jim, Donny Kwok, and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong;
additional reporting by Simon Lewis, Arshad Mohammed and David
Brunnstrom in Washington, Robin Emmott in Brussels and Guy
Faulconbridge in London; writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by
Michael Perry, Gerry Doyle and Nick Zieminski)

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