Six former editors and managers of the now-shuttered Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Nov 22) to collaborating with foreign forces, charges punishable by life in prison.
It is the first time that the drastic national security law, which Beijing imposed in mid-2020 on the territory to quell any dissent, has been invoked against a press agency and members of its staff.
Accused of breaking the law
Apple Daily, a critic of Chinese power, had supported the pro-democracy movement that shook Hong Kong in 2019. The newspaper had closed in mid-2021 after a freeze on its funds and the arrest of some of its leaders, including its founder Jimmy Lai, charged with violating national security laws.
Four former editors and two former directors pleaded guilty Tuesday in the city’s highest court to “conspiring with foreign forces to threaten national securityThose who appeared were the paper’s general manager Cheung Kim-hung, deputy editor Chan Pui-man, editor-in-chief Law Wai-kwong, editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung and editors Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee.
Prosecutors accuse them of using Apple Daily to broadcast content calling for foreign sanctions against China. She produced as evidence more than 160 articles published since April 2019. The national security text, with its vague contours, criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism and cooperation with foreign forces. Prosecutors dropped sedition charges in exchange for their guilty pleas to “secret cooperation“.
The six defendants have been in custody for almost a year and a half and will not be sentenced until the end of the trial against Jimmy Lai and three companies that depended on Apple Daily. A prosecutor told the court that some of the six defendants would testify at the December trial of the famous Hong Kong media mogul, who has pleaded not guilty.
This year, Hong Kong has fallen to 148th place in the world ranking for press freedom published by the organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In 2002, the year this ranking was first published, the area ranked 18th and was seen as a haven for freedom of expression in Asia.