Chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung are accused of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China's national security over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.

Police officers from the national security department escort Apple Daily's Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung from the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021.
Police officers from the national security department escort Apple Daily's Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung from the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021. (Reuters)

Two executives of Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, charged under a national security law, have been denied bail, in a case that has drawn international condemnation and stoked fears over media freedoms in the financial hub.

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, appeared in West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts on charges of "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security."

Judge Victor So denied them bail.

Three others also arrested Thursday – two Apple Daily senior editors and another executive – have not been charged yet and were released on bail late Friday pending further investigation.

'No fear, fight on'

Crowds gathered at dawn on Saturday outside West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts, some holding yellow umbrellas or wearing Apple Daily T-shirts saying, "No fear, fight on."

"Right now, you can be charged with NSL because of a word or a speech that they didn't like. It’s a big regression,” Lo, 29, a reader of the popular, 26-year-old paper, said.

Founder Jimmy Lai in cell 

The Apple Daily has long been one of the most outspoken defenders of civil liberties in Hong Kong. It supported massive protests demanding more democracy in 2019 and has criticised the subsequent crackdown, including the enactment of a national security law last year.

The central government in Beijing has defended the legislation and the crackdown on opposition voices as necessary to restore order and stability. The 2019 protests that challenged Beijing's rule often started as peaceful marches during the day but turned into violent clashes between hard-core demonstrators and police at night.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence after being convicted of playing a role in unauthorised assemblies – rallies and marches that had not received police approval – during the 2019 protests. He has also been charged under the national security law.

The latest arrests mark the first time journalists have been targeted under the new law, except for a freelancer who was arrested for pro-democracy activities.

International sanctions

Hundreds of police and security agents who raided Apple Daily's office on Thursday also seized 44 hard drives, and authorities froze $2.3 million of its assets.

Police said the arrests were based on more than 30 articles that had appeared in the Apple Daily since the security law took effect and that had called for international sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

The security law specifically criminalises colluding with a foreign country, institution, organisation or individual to impose sanctions or a blockade against Hong Kong or China.

Critics say Beijing is walking back on its promise at the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain that the city could retain its freedoms not seen elsewhere in China for 50 years.

The US has imposed sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials over the crackdown and called for the immediate release of the Apple Daily editors and executives.

Asked how journalists should avoid getting in trouble, Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee told a news conference this week that “the answer is simple: Do your journalistic work as freely as you like in accordance with the law provided you do not conspire or have any intention to break the Hong Kong law and certainly not the Hong Kong National Security Law.”

READ MORE: Several arrested as Hong Kong police raid Apple Daily newspaper

Source: TRTWorld and agencies