Editorial writer Fung Wai-kong was halted Sunday and arrested on suspicion of “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign sources to endanger national security,” a crime punishable by up to life in prison via the city’s Beijing-imposed security law. Fung was said to be leaving for Britain, according to local reports.
Local police do not publicly identify those they detain, but said they had arrested a 57-year-old man at the airport on Sunday.
Fung is the second of Apple Daily’s editorialists to be arrested, and the seventh employee in the span of just two weeks. The others before him have been journalists or Apple Daily executives.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has criticized the arrest.
“The HKJA reiterates that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are core values of Hong Kong,” it said in a statement. “If even the writing of literati cannot be tolerated, it will be difficult for Hong Kong to be regarded as an international city.”
“The arrest of a writer for his or her words is a hallmark of authoritarianism,” Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of the free speech non-profit PEN America, said in a statement. “With every new arrest under the national security law, Hong Kong’s authorities elevate Beijing’s repressive dictates over respect for human rights and observance of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which guarantees the very freedoms that are now being trampled.”
Apple Daily put out its final print edition last week.
U.S. President Joe Biden said its closure marked a “sad day for media freedom” and blamed the development on “intensifying repression by Beijing.”
China’s foreign ministry has called his comments “baseless,” while Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has stated that the moves against Apple Daily targeted breaches of national security, not press freedom.
Meanwhile, other independent news media fear they may be next in the firing line.
Online pro-democracy news outlet Stand News said in a statement on Sunday that it is taking precautionary actions. Six of its directors have stepped down, and it plans to remove published commentaries and opinion pieces before the end of June. It has stopped fundraising and taking money from donors or subscribers, which will simply go to waste if the authorities freeze its accounts if they believe Stand News is guilty of breaking the security law.
Earlier this month, it froze $2.3 million of Apple Daily’s assets. The paper’s founder, outspoken Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, was arrested last year.