Six former executives of a now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges of collusion under the National Security Law, which has silenced and jailed most opposition voices in the southern Chinese territory.
Apple Daily staff were arrested last year during a crackdown on dissidents after Beijing imposed the Comprehensive Security Law in response to widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They have been accused of conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The law criminalizes succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. His maximum sentence is life imprisonment. However, it was expected that the six would receive reduced sentences because of their guilty pleas.
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Publisher Cheung Kim-hung, associate editor Chan Pui-man, editor-in-chief Ryan Law, editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee admitted they were conspiring with the newspaper’s founder, Jimmy Lai to call for the imposition of sanctions, blockades, or engage in other hostile activity against Hong Kong or China.
Prosecutors alleged that three Apple Daily-affiliated companies were also involved in the conspiracy from July 1, 2020 — the day after the National Security Law was enacted — until the day the newspaper went out of print, June 24, 2021.
Referring to the English version of the publication, they claimed it was introduced by Lai to prompt foreign forces to impose sanctions or be hostile to Hong Kong or China. They said Lai was the mastermind behind the plot and the six acted to carry out the plans. After the security law went into effect, Apple Daily condemned the legislation as an “evil law” and called for resistance, they added.
Lai and the three companies were expected to plead not guilty to their charges and their trial is scheduled to begin in December. 1. Lai faces life imprisonment if convicted. If the companies are convicted, they could be fined and the proceeds of the crime confiscated.
After hearing their objections and the prosecution’s case, a High Court judge found the six people guilty. Their verdicts would be reached after Lai’s trial.
Local journalists and former Apple Daily employees were among the onlookers, and some waved to the defendants before and after the hearing.
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Police seized hard drives and laptops as evidence in a raid on the Apple Daily offices in June 2021, sending the city’s media into shock. Arrests of the newspaper’s top executives, editors, and journalists, and $2.3 million worth of asset freezes caused it to cease operations. It sold a million copies by its last issue.
Hong Kong fell more than 60 places to 148th in the latest World Press Freedom Index released in May. The media watchdog cited the closure of Apple Daily and Stand News, a vocal online outlet that gained popularity during the 2019 protests but was forced to shut down amid the ongoing crackdown.
The watchdog also said the city’s press freedom has experienced “an unprecedented setback” since the introduction of the security law, which “serves as an excuse to gag independent voices” in the name of fighting national security crimes.
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Separately, nine people were found guilty in another Hong Kong court on Tuesday during a violent protest in October 2019. They were among thousands of residents arrested for their role in widespread protests three years ago.