Apple Daily arrests raise concerns about free press in Hong Kong

The arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and six others linked to popular Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, in a high-profile police raid on the publication’s headquarters last week, raises fresh concerns about threats to the city’s free press.

Around 200 police officers participated in the raid concerning alleged breaches of a sweeping new national security law passed by Beijing. Police were seen flipping through materials on journalists’ desks during the search and such materials may be among items they seized. Staff were, initially, told to stop live broadcasting the raid.

The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) is deeply concerned about the impact of these unprecedented events on Hong Kong’s free and robust media. The police operation, which made headlines around the world, has severely damaged the city’s international reputation as a place in Asia where the media can operate freely, without intimidation, threats or harassment. The heavy-handed raid has fuelled further mistrust between the police and the media at a time when greater understanding is needed.

The police also barred certain media organisations wishing to cover the raid from access to cordoned-off areas, including attendance at a media briefing. This is not acceptable. We urge the police to discontinue this new policy.

Apple Daily, a SOPA member, is well known for its criticism of the Hong Kong government and Beijing. Any legal proceedings arising from the arrests must be conducted transparently and fairly by the city’s independent judiciary in strict accordance with the rule of law.

Press freedom is one of Hong Kong’s greatest assets. Both the national security law and the Basic Law state that press freedom is to be protected. This freedom has long set the city apart from other parts of Asia. Publishers contribute significantly to Hong Kong’s economy, creating many jobs and furthering the free flow of information so important to the city’s status as an international financial centre.

Hong Kong must safeguard press freedom, facilitate the work of journalists and offer an environment in which publishers can flourish.