Hong Kong’s top official defended last week’s arrests of senior editors at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and said the sweeping national security law China imposed a year ago should act as a deterrent to other media outlets.
Police would’ve collected “sufficient evidence” before moving last week to arrest executives and editors at the newspaper, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday at a regular press briefing. She defended the city’s police from accusations they were undermining press freedom, saying the raid was not related to “normal journalistic work” and that the paper’s editors couldn’t hide behind their profession.
“You can’t say that just because the suspected organization is a newspaper organization and suspected people are executives from a newspaper organization that our actions undermine press freedom,” Lam said.
“The national security law in Hong Kong will have to be enforced seriously. There is also a preventative and deterrent effect. It has to have a deterrent effect if it is to achieve its objective.”
Hong Kong police used the national security law imposed last year to arrest the five most senior figures at Apple Daily, which is owned by imprisoned media tycoon and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai. The paper has said it may have to close this week because authorities used the security law to freeze company assets and block access to its accounts, preventing it from paying staff or doing business with suppliers.
The arrests of the paper’s top editors and executives for publishing articles that allegedly violated the national security law prompted criticism from the U.S. and human rights groups, who said the move was undermining freedoms in the former British colony.
The city’s top officials, including Secretary for Security John Lee, have defended the arrests and said they were not undermining press freedoms in Hong Kong, which is home to the regional headquarters of numerous international news organizations.
Lee and Lam have both said the arrests targeted alleged breaches of the national security law, not media companies doing ordinary journalism.
When asked how she would define that term on Tuesday, Lam would only specify that it was reporting that did not break any laws.
“What is normal journalistic work? I think you are in a better position to answer that question,” she said. “I can only say what is breaching the law based on the advice from my enforcement authorities as well as the Department of Justice. Journalists should be in a position to judge whether one is breaching the law.”