HONG KONG: Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily increased its Friday (Jun 18) press run after 500 police officers raided its newsroom on Thursday and seized reporting materials as part of a probe into whether articles threatened China's national security.
Police arrested five executives, including editor-in-chief Ryan Law, at dawn on Thursday and froze HK$18 million (US$2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to the paper before cordoning off the building.
It was the second time police had raided the newsroom after the arrest last year of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, an activist and staunch Beijing critic who owns Next Digital, the publisher of Apple Daily.
The newspaper increased the number of copies it printed on Friday to 500,000 copies, more than six times Thursday's 80,000, anticipating strong demand from readers in the city of 7.5 million. A similar number was printed after Lai's arrest in August last year.
One reader, Tsang, who only gave his last name because of the sensitivity of the matter, drove to a newsstand around midnight to buy two or three copies of the paper as soon as it was delivered from the press.
"You never know when this newspaper will die," Tsang said. "As Hong Kongers, we need to preserve the history. Hang in there as long as we can. Although the road is rough, we still need to walk it, as there's no other road."
The front page of Apple Daily reported the raid, saying police seized 44 hard drives as evidence.
It was the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020 after almost a year of mass pro-democracy protests.
The EU and Britain said the raid showed China was using the law to crack down on dissent rather than deal with public security. The US said "selective" use of the law "arbitrarily" targeted independent media.
The World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum called in a joint statement for the immediate release of Apple Daily staff and the unfreezing of the company's assets.
“The national security law is being deliberately misused to suppress critical opinion and target those who dissent,” said WAN-IFRA’s executive director for press freedom, Andrew Heslop.
“Authorities are spreading fear and censuring media exercising their right to press freedom. China’s attempts to impose authoritarian rule over Hong Kong’s media cannot and will not go unopposed,” Heslop added.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that media freedom and other rights would remain intact, but that national security was a red line.
China's Foreign Commissioner's Office said in a statement the national security law protected press freedom, while warning "external forces" to "keep their hands off Hong Kong".
In a statement on Thursday, the Next Media staff union vowed to keep reporting.
"As difficult as the current circumstances may be, we will carry on with our jobs with the aim to publish our papers as normal," it said.