Local news outlets in Hong Kong say a former columnist at the now-defunct pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper has been arrested while trying to leave the city.
Hong Kong police issued a report saying a 57-year-old man, whose name was not released, had been arrested at the airport Sunday night and charged under the national security law for suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The police statement did not reveal the man’s identity, but news reports identified him as Fung Wai-kong.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the arrest in a statement, and warned that “If even the pen of a literati cannot be accommodated, Hong Kong will hardly be regarded as an international city.”
If the reports are accurate, Fung would be the seventh staffer at Apple Daily to be detained in the days before and after the newspaper shut down operations. The newspaper’s publisher, Next Digital, issued 1 million copies of its final print edition last Thursday, a day after the publisher announced it was closing shop citing “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
The decision was made nearly a week after more than 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices and arrested its chief editor, Ryan Law, and four other executives with the newspaper and Next Digital. Authorities then froze $2.3 million of its assets, leaving the company unable to pay its staffers.
Law and Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung have been charged with colluding with a foreign country and have been denied bail.
The day before Apple Daily’s closure, another staffer, identified as the newspaper’s lead editorial writer and columnist, was arrested. Police said a 55-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign forces.
Apple Daily and its 73-year-old publisher, Next Digital founder and owner Jimmy Lai, have been the target of Hong Kong authorities since China imposed a strict national security law last June in response to the massive and sometimes violent anti-government protests in 2019.
The newspaper’s offices were raided last August after Lai was arrested at his house on suspicion of foreign collusion.
Hong Kong authorities have cited dozens of articles published by Apple Daily it says violated the security law, which targets anyone authorities suspected of carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces.
Apple Daily’s closure appears to have had a chilling effect on at least one Hong Kong news outlet, the online-based Stand News, which announced Sunday it was removing older published commentaries and would no longer accept donations from readers. The outlet’s publishers said the moves were taken to protect its supporters, writers and editorial staff.
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.