A senior journalist with the recently-closed Apple Daily newspaper was arrested by Hong Kong police at the airport on 26 June on a suspected national security offense. The former senior editor and columnist, identified as Fung Wai-kong, is the seventh staffer with the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily to be arrested on national security grounds in the past few weeks in Hong Kong. Wai-kong was arrested for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security,” according to Reuters.
A week before this latest arrest, Hong Kong police arrested the Apple Daily’s chief editorial writer, which followed the detention of five executives including the editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, and the chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung.
The Apple Daily was forced to fold in the wake of a massive police raid by over 500 officers on its headquarters on 17 June and the subsequent freezing of assets and bank accounts. The Daily was one of the best-selling Chinese language newspapers in Hong Kong since its establishment in 1995; after the government shutdown, the paper printed one million copies of its final farewell edition, 10 times its regular daily circulation. The White House released a statement on 24 June in which American President Joe Biden called the end of Apple Daily “a sad day for media freedom. The newspaper had been a much needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong.”
Articles from the Apple Daily may have violated the national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020, which critics have said is being utilized to stifle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. The law laid out four offenses with penalties up to life imprisonment: separatism, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers. China shocked the international community when it announced the law, effectively side-stepping Hong Kong’s own legislature in order to pass national security laws directly from Beijing. The move was widely seen as undermining the one country, two systems policy reached between Britain and China in 1997 after the independence of the territory. “It’s profoundly concerning and it’s really the biggest crisis Hong Kong has faced in its modern history,” said Benedict Rogers, co-founder of Hong Kong Watch, an advocacy group that monitors the territory’s freedoms. After the passing of the national security law in 2020, officials in both Beijing and Hong Kong have been keen to reassure citizens that the laws will not affect the city’s political autonomy and insisted it would only “target a minority of troublemakers who pose a threat to national security,” according to NBC News.
Leading up to the 2020 security laws, the introduction of a dry policy paper from Beijing in 2014 wielding comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong paved a path for China to increase its control over the city. Hong Kong authorities have arrested more than 110 people in national security investigations over the past year, including most of the city’s pro-democracy activists.
For many in Hong Kong, the proudly pro-democracy publication the Apple Daily stood as more than just a newspaper; instead, it was a symbol of civil liberties that have been diminished as Beijing has expanded its political purview to the territory. In response to the end of the Apple Daily, United States President Biden asserted that “journalists are truth-tellers who hold leaders accountable and keep information flowing freely—and that is needed now more than ever in Hong Kong[…]The act of journalism is not a crime.”
The forced closure of the Apple Daily and the subsequent arrests of seven of its staffers stands as an egregious act of stifling freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Personal, civil, and political liberties cannot survive under a regime of suppression under the guise of “national security.” Although the United States has acknowledged China’s infringement upon the independent press, more must be done to protect these rights. Free press and expression are essential cornerstones of the democratic process. The rights and freedoms of citizens in Hong Kong are clearly being attacked by Beijing’s national security laws and the international community must take action to condemn this suppression of free journalism.