Taipei, August 10, 2020 — Hong Kong police must immediately release all those arrested in connection to today’s raid on Apple Daily publisher Next Digital, and refrain from filing charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
This morning, police arrested Jimmy Lai, founder and chair of Next Digital, at his home in Ho Man Tin, in Kowloon City district, under suspicion of violating the region’s recently passed National Security Law, according to a report by Apple Daily, Next Digital’s flagship newspaper, and a statement by the Hong Kong Police Force.
Police also arrested Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim Hung, chief operating officer and chief financial officer Royston Chow Tat Kuen, chief administrative officer Wong Wai-keung, chief executive of Next Animation Studio Kith Ng, and Lai’s two sons, Timothy and Ian, according to news reports. Police are also seeking to arrest Next Digital executive Mark Simon, who is currently outside of the city, according to those reports.
Police are investigating Lai, his sons, and the executives for offenses including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements,” a violation of Article 29 of the National Security Law, and conspiracy to defraud, a criminal offense, according to the police statement and those reports.
If charged and convicted with collusion, they could face life in prison, according to the National Security Law; if charged and convicted of fraud, they could face up to 14 years in prison, according to Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance.
“The arrests of Jimmy Lai, his sons, and Next Digital executives, as well as the search of Apple Daily’s offices, are outrageous attacks on Hong Kong’s freedom of the press,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities need to understand that this attack on press freedom amounts to an assault on the heart of Hong Kong’s success.”
Over a hundred police officers arrived at Apple Daily’s office at 10 a.m. this morning with a court warrant and conducted a search for approximately three hours, according to news reports. Apple Daily released videos and photos of police officers searching through reporters’ desks.
Lai was previously arrested in February and in April on charges of participating in an illegal assembly, as CPJ documented at the time. His son Ian owns a restaurant in Hong Kong, which police also raided today, according to reports.
CPJ emailed the Hong Kong Police Force for comment, but did not receive any response.