Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declined to clarify how journalists can avoid breaking the loosely defined national security law in the wake of the raid and prosecution of journalists at a pro-democracy newspaper.
In a regular press conference on Tuesday, the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, defended the arrest of senior Apple Daily executives under the National Security Act (NSL) – two of whom have been charged conspiracy to collude with a foreign country – as well as a raid on his newsroom and an asset freeze.
Apple Daily has announced that it will cease posting online this week unless its assets are unfrozen. On Tuesday, it closed its English edition.
Lam denied that it was an attack on press freedom and said foreign criticism of the police operation, including from rights groups and global governments, were simply an attempt to reformulate acts that endangered national security.
“Do not try to downplay the importance of the violation of the national security law, and do not try to embellish these acts endangering national security,” she said. “Do not try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the National Security Law to suppress the media or stifle free speech. “
Authorities said the raid and arrests involved more than 30 articles that called for foreign sanctions against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. Authorities declined to specify the articles in question, or to say whether they were news or opinions.
Authorities have repeatedly refused to tell the media how their work might violate the loosely defined law, including by posting quotes, comments or analysis by third parties.
Asked Tuesday, Lam said that “normal journalistic work would not endanger national security. She said the law was “very well defined” and “encompassed all important legal concepts”, but again gave no explanation as to how it specifically applied to journalism.
“I think media friends have the ability to understand what kind of activity endangers national security,” she said. “It’s fine to criticize the government of the Hong Kong SAR, but if there is any intention or organization of activities to incite or overthrow the government, that is another matter. “
Asked about requests from Next Digital Media, the parent company of Apple Daily, to unfreeze their assets and accounts so they can pay staff, Lam said the decision rests with the security secretary.
Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid owned by activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai, has been a key target in authorities’ efforts to stifle the Hong Kong press. Lai has been in prison since December and awaits trial on three counts of NSL. Hong Kong people bought copies of the newspaper in large numbers, in apparent support for the beleaguered title.
Thursday’s newsroom raid was the second in less than a year and came with an unprecedented warrant to seize journalistic material. According to Lai’s senior advisor, Mark Simon, he has frozen around HK $ 18 million in assets and blocked accounts holding over $ 500 million. The move, which took place before the lawsuits began, left the company unable to pay future operating costs or salaries.
Next Digital’s board of directors told staff that if funds weren’t released, they would likely shut down the newspaper this week.
On Monday, the headline aired its latest news broadcast live online, thanking its audience and urging the remaining Hong Kong media to stand firm and stand up for the truth, RTHK reported. On Tuesday, he ceased his service in English.
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