HONG KONG – Hong Kong police arrested a veteran Apple Daily reporter at the airport on Sunday as he tried to leave the city, four days after the newspaper was forced to shut down, in Beijing’s latest crackdown under of the radical new law on national security.
Police confirmed in a statement to NBC News that a 57-year-old man was arrested for “conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or foreign sources to endanger national security” – a felony punishable by life in prison .
The journalist, who has not been officially named, is now the seventh Apple Daily staff member to be arrested on national security grounds in recent weeks.
Police raided Apple Daily’s offices earlier this month, arresting five of its editors and senior executives, while freezing financial accounts. The newspaper – one of Hong Kong’s most popular newspapers and a fierce critic of China – released its final edition Thursday amid ever-tighter restrictions imposed by Beijing, after months of protests in 2019.
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The newspaper’s founder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested last year and charged with national security offenses. While in detention, he was sentenced to 20 months for participating in illegal gatherings.
The last million copies of Apple Daily were sold on newsstands across the city as thousands of Hong Kong people braved torrential rains to bid painful farewells to the newspaper. This is the latest setback for the city’s press freedom and free speech, which activists say have been stifled by the new law that aims to suppress dissent and pro-democracy activism on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association in a statement on Monday condemned the latest arrest and accused police of targeting journalists.
“HKJA reiterates that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the two core values of Hong Kong,” she said in a statement on Facebook. “If the ‘writer’s pen’ is banned, Hong Kong will hardly be considered an international city.”
He added that the recent news channel has “almost completely killed press freedom in Hong Kong.”
Meanwhile, news of the arrest was trending on the heavily censored Chinese social media app Weibo, with the Guancha.cn article read more than 59 million times.
“The law is clear. Those who distort the facts and incite social instability should have expected this kind of outcome, ”user Moqing wrote on the platform.
Li Wei, a commentator for Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based broadcaster known for his pro-government stance, wrote: “This ‘fruit tree’ media is trying to spoil Hong Kong. The media that want to turn the city upside down continue to turn the non-existent into a rumor, then amplify and spread it, causing society to panic.
Separately, crowd-funded pro-democracy digital outlet Stand News said on Sunday evening it would stop accepting monthly donations and remove older opinion pieces – a step it has taken to reduce risks under national security law.
The store’s six managers, including Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho, have resigned.
“[We] have been through misery and hardship with Hong Kong people over the past six and a half years, ”the outlet said in the statement. “We will continue to… walk with Hong Kong people, cherish the hearts of our customers and readers, do a good job with every short story, write and record Hong Kong.”
Christina ching yin chan contributed.