Hong Kong Police Arrest Apple Daily Writer in Ongoing Operation
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong police arrested a columnist for the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper under the city’s national security law in an operation that is still ongoing, the latest blow to a popular tabloid that is facing an imminent shutdown under pressure from the government.
Police on Wednesday arrested a 55-year-old man for allegedly colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. While the police statement didn’t mention any names or publications, local media including the Oriental Daily reported the man is an Apple Daily columnist who writes social commentary under the name Li Ping.
The operation is ongoing and the police wouldn’t rule out additional arrests, a member of the police’s public relations team told Bloomberg News. Representatives for Apple Daily and Next Digital didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
After the arrest on Wednesday, newsroom staff were growing increasingly frightened because Li wasn’t considered the most outspoken columnist, according to three Apple Daily reporters who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the police operation. Some newspaper staff were being advised to leave the office after the arrest, the people said, with some newsroom managers evacuating reporters.
Based on Apple Daily records, Li has written around 800 columns, including one about the newspaper’s recent troubles on June 18 under the headline “You Support Us, We Will Stand Strong.” His most recent column published Tuesday, “Don’t Wet the Bed at Dawn,” questioned if Hong Kong academics might change how they conduct research due to political pressure.
The development follows the arrests last week of five senior Apple Daily editors and executives for publishing articles that allegedly violated the security law, which bars subversion, terrorism, secession and foreign collusion.
The arrests -- condemned by the U.S., Japan and human-rights groups -- included the paper’s editor-in-chief, as well as the chief executive of parent company Next Digital Ltd owned by now-jailed media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
Hong Kong national security officials have blocked access to the newspaper’s bank accounts, preventing them from paying employees and suppliers, according to Mark Simon, a top adviser to Lai. The paper may need to close its print and digital operations unless authorities allow access to the funds, Simon said.
As of Wednesday, Apple Daily’s financial and English language sections, as well as live broadcasts, have been discontinued. Next Digital’s Next Magazine also announced it will cease operations. “Everyone at Next Digital magazine has worked incredibly hard and enjoyed the press freedom, we have no regrets,” the magazine’s publisher, Louise Wong, wrote in a Facebook post.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the arrests of the paper’s senior editors and said the national security law China imposed a year ago should act as a deterrent to other media outlets.
“You can’t say that just because the suspected organization is a newspaper organization and suspected people are executives from a newspaper organization that our actions undermine press freedom,” Lam told reporters.
“The national security law in Hong Kong will have to be enforced seriously,” she said. “There is also a preventative and deterrent effect. It has to have a deterrent effect if it is to achieve its objective.”
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