Officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) launched the raids after the six newspapers reported the name of a witness in a fraud investigation. The ICAC, which obtained search warrants for the raids, said that identifying the woman violated a witness protection law.
The South China Morning Post, one of the six raided, reported on court proceedings in which the witness was said to be held against her will by the ICAC. The agency also raided the newsrooms of the Oriental Daily News, Sing Tao, the Sun, Apple Daily, and the Ta Kung Pao, according to news reports.
Seven ICAC officers came to the South China Morning Post offices July 24, demanding to interview journalists who had reported on the court proceedings, the newspaper reported. The officers asked the reporters to return to ICAC offices, where they were questioned until late at night, according to the Morning Post report.
The Oriental Daily News reported that 10 ICAC officers searched the desks of its court reporters and seized documents. Officers later searched the offices of the Sun, sister publication of the Daily News. Apple Daily reported that officers searched the paper's offices as well as the home of one of its reporters. Three officers spent six hours searching the computers and seizing documents at the Sing Tao offices.
"ICAC used unnecessary and heavy-handed tactics that seem designed to harass and intimidate," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "Hong Kong authorities must conduct a thorough investigation into the raids and ensure that journalists are able to work without external pressure or interference."
The ICAC was established in 1974 as an independent agency to investigate corruption in Hong Kong. In a July 25 statement, the ICAC defended the raids as part of an investigation into violations of the Witness Protection Ordinance. Under the ordinance, identifying a protected witness "without lawful authority or reasonable excuse" is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.