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Hong Kong democracy supporters snap up Apple Daily copies amid anger at police raid

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Key Points
  • Hong Kong democracy supporters rushed to buy copies of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Friday, citing anger over a police raid of the organization's newsroom as part of a probe into whether some articles threatened China's national security.
  • Police arrested five executives, including Apple Daily's chief editor, at dawn on Thursday and froze 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to the paper.
  • 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.
Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law in the newspaper's newsroom in Hong Kong on May 13, 2021.
Isaac Lawrence | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong democracy supporters rushed to buy copies of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Friday, citing anger over a police raid of the organization's newsroom as part of a probe into whether some articles threatened China's national security.

The popular 26-year-old paper, which combines pro-democracy 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.

During the morning commute, some newsstands in central Hong Kong placed announcements that Apple Daily had sold out. One stand showed a picture of the paper's logo with the words "Support press freedom" beneath it.

One reader, Tsang, who only gave his last name because of the sensitivity of the matter, bought his copy at midnight, as soon as it was delivered from the printing 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."

Tam, a 40-year-old banker, said Friday morning 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.

Police arrested five executives, including Apple Daily's chief editor, at dawn on Thursday and froze 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($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, a pro-democracy activist and staunch Beijing critic, who owns Next Digital which publishes Apple Daily.

The newspaper printed a similar number after Lai's arrest in August 2020.

The front page of Apple Daily reported the raid, which involved 500 officers, saying police had seized 44 hard disk drives as evidence.

On Thursday night in the Apple Daily newsroom, Ng, a graphics journalist who only gave his last name, said the raid was "really a pathetic moment for Hong Kong."

"If we can't survive, there's no more press freedom," Ng said as he worked.

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.

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The European Union and Britain said the raid showed China was using the law to crack down on dissent rather than deal with public security. The United States 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 press freedom and other rights were intact, but national security was a red line.

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.