HK charge Apple Daily execs with collusion
Hong Kong police have charged the editor-in-chief and CEO of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily with collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security in a case that has sent chills through the city's media.
On Thursday, 500 police raided the media outlet and officers were seen sitting in front of computers in the newsroom after the arrest of five Apple Daily executives at dawn on suspicion that dozens of its articles violated Hong Kong's new security law.
Police said it charged two of the five on Friday, identified by Apple Daily as editor-in-chief Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung. They will appear at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court on Saturday.
The other three - COO Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai - remain under investigation.
Police also said they would prosecute three companies related to Apple Daily for the same offence after freezing $HK18 million ($A3.08 million) of their assets.
The national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 on the former British colony has dropped an authoritarian chill over most aspects of life in Hong Kong, including education and arts.
Democracy supporters flocked to buy copies of Apple Daily on Friday to protest against the raid.
The popular 26-year-old paper, which combines liberal discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, increased its Friday press run to 500,000 copies, up from 80,000 the previous day.
In the Mong Kok district, queues formed at some kiosks at midnight, with some customers carting off hundreds of first editions on trolleys and suitcases.
By the morning, some newsstands in central Hong Kong had already sold out. One displayed a picture of Apple's logo with the words 'Support press freedom' beneath it.
Tam, a 40-year-old banker, said he had bought his first newspaper in 20 years after hearing about the raid.
"I don't mean to do anything with the newspaper in my hand. It's just for my conscience," he said.
It was the second time police had raided the newsroom after the arrest last year of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist and staunch Beijing critic, who owns Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.
Lai's assets have since been frozen as he faces three charges under the security law. He is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said 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".
The raid "sends a further chilling message for media freedom", chief UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters by email on Friday.
"We call on Hong Kong authorities to respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in line with the Basic Law, in particular freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to participate in public affairs," he said.
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