HONG KONG — Six former heads of a defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper pleaded guilty Tuesday to collusion under the National Security Law, which silences and imprisons most dissenting voices in southern China.
Apple Daily employees were arrested last year in a crackdown on dissent after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law in response to widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They were accused of colluding with foreign powers to threaten national security.
The law criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. His maximum sentence is life imprisonment. But the six were expected to receive lesser sentences for pleading guilty.
Publisher Cheung Kim-hung, associate publisher Chan Pui-man, editor-in-chief Ryan Law, editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee pleaded guilty to conspiracy. newspaper founder Jimmy Lai to call for sanctions or a blockade or to engage in other hostile activity against Hong Kong or China.
Prosecutors alleged that three companies associated with Apple Daily were involved in the conspiracy from July 1, 2020 – the day the National Security Act was implemented – until June 24, 2021, the newspaper’s last print edition.
They pointed to the English version of the publication, which they claimed was presented by Lai to ask foreign powers to impose sanctions or hostilities against Hong Kong or China. They said that Lai was the mastermind of the assassination and that six people had moved to carry out the plans. After the security law went into effect, Apple Daily denounced the legislation as an “evil law” and called for resistance, they said.
Lai and the three companies pleaded not guilty to the charge and their trial was expected to begin on December 1. If convicted, Lai faces up to life in prison. If companies are found guilty, they can be fined and the proceeds of crime can be confiscated.
After hearing their pleas and the prosecution’s case, a High Court judge convicted the six. Their sentences would be handed down after Lain’s trial.
Local journalists and former Apple Daily employees were in the audience, some waving to the defendants before and after the hearing.
Police seized hard drives and laptops as evidence during a raid on Apple Daily’s offices in June 2021, sending shockwaves through the city’s media. The arrest of senior managers, editors and journalists at the newspaper, as well as the freezing of its assets of 2.3 million dollars, led to its suspension. It sold a million copies of its last edition.
In the latest World Press Freedom Index published by the Reporters Without Borders organization in May, Hong Kong dropped more than 60 places and ranked 148th. The media watchdog cited the shutdown of Apple Daily and Stand News, vocal online media outlets that gained popularity during the protests in 2019 but were forced to shut down amid ongoing crackdowns.
The watchdog also said the city’s press freedom has seen an “unprecedented decline” since the passage of a security law that “serves as an excuse to stifle independent voices” under the guise of fighting national security crimes.
Separately, in another Hong Kong court in October 2019, nine people were found guilty of rioting during a violent demonstration. They were among thousands of residents arrested for their role in widespread protests three years ago.