Four ex-Apple Daily staff denied bail over charges of 'conspiracy to collude with a foreign country'

Hong Kong | 22 Jul 2021 12:50 pm

Four staff members from the now-closed pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were denied bail on Thursday after being brought to court facing charges of colluding with foreign forces under the city’s national security law.

The charges are the latest in a national security inquiry into jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's newspaper, which folded after several hundred police raided its headquarters on June 17, freezing key assets and bank accounts.

No plea was taken from the four and their case has been adjourned to September 30.

The police, who typically do not name people under investigation, said they had charged four individuals, ages 51 to 57 years, including one who had been arrested on Wednesday, Reuters reported. Public broadcaster RTHK identified the four as staff of the former Apple Daily newspaper, including the former executive chief editor Lam Man-chung.

The other three were said to be Yeung Ching-Kei, who wrote for Apple Daily under the pen name, Li Ping, publisher Chan Pui-man and editorial writer Fung Wai-kong. The three were all arrested in June, and had their police bail revoked on Wednesday.

The national security department said it was charging four people, whom it did not identify, "for the offense of conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security."

Media group Next Digital, which published Apple Daily, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The popular tabloid of staunch Beijing critic Lai printed its last edition on June 24 after the police raid and several staff arrests.

Police have said dozens of the paper's articles may have violated the city's China-imposed national security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.

Critics of the law, introduced in June 2020, say it has been used to muzzle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms, including those of the media, in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Authorities have denied the erosion of rights and freedoms, including the media, in Hong Kong, but said acts that endangered China's national security crossed a red line, Reuters said. Security officials have said law enforcement actions are based on evidence and have nothing to do with an individual's background or profession.

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