Hong Kong’s political and economic assault on the rule of law continues, and this week it spread to the city’s pro-democracy newspaper,
Daily. The arrests, search warrants and asset freezes are a warning to anyone doing business in the once-free city that is being swallowed by China’s authoritarian rule.
On Thursday Hong Kong police arrested five journalists and media executives, including Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief
They’re suspected of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” police said in a news release.
Police also searched Apple Daily’s headquarters and the homes of those arrested and seized journalistic materials including files, laptops and phones. Apple is the target because it continues to publish news the government dislikes despite the arrest of its founder,
last year on similar charges. All six face up to life in prison.
Hong Kong police senior superintendent
said in a news conference that authorities froze $2.3 million in related media assets. But
Mr. Lai’s longtime assistant, says “the actual number is higher as they have asked banks not to deal with us.” Last month authorities also froze more than $64 million in Mr. Lai’s assets, including his shares in the publicly traded Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily.
Bowing to China, Hong Kong officials have been trying to squeeze Apple Daily out of business through financial means. But they seem to have concluded that this is too slow and have now resorted to mass arrests. Secretary of Security
news conference was brimming with threats to other reporters. “Distance yourself” and “do not play cahoots” or “collude” with Apple Daily’s journalists, or “you will pay a hefty price,” and “all you are left with are regrets,” Mr. Lee warned. “Colluding” could mean reporting on their plight.
Hong Kong authorities claim they’re merely acting in accordance with the law. But the asset freezes, which took place with no court hearings and no due process, are an extrajudicial confiscation of property. Without access to its funds, Apple Daily will struggle to continue doing journalism and to defend itself and its imprisoned employees.
Today’s target is a pro-democracy newspaper, but any company that does anything that offends Beijing could suffer a similar fate. Businesses of all kinds, beware.
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Appeared in the June 18, 2021, print edition.