The Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of the Apple Daily newspaper under the national security law, AP reported. The newspaper is known for its strong pro-democracy stance and often criticises and condemns the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for tightening control over the city-state.

Speaking to reporters, Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said that the arrests were made after the police conducted a raid at the office of Apple Daily, Reuters reported. In a first, the police seized journalistic materials under the new national security law.

Apple Daily said that police officers also accessed journalists’ computers. “[Police] officers also targeted the offices of editorial managers and took away their computers and a number of documents and news materials,” Lam Man-chung, Executive Editor-in-Chief of Apple Daily said.

Those arrested included Next Digital Limited Chief Executive Officer and Apple Daily publisher Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow, as well as the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Deputy Editors Chan Pui-man and Cheung Chi-wai.

Next Digital is a company founded by Hong Kong’s media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was himself charged under the national security law in December on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces. He is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for his role in allegedly organising unauthorised assemblies in 2019, during a period when Hong Kong saw massive anti-government protests. Last month, authorities froze Lai’s assets and shares in Next Digital.

Next Media Union condemned the “blatant violation of press freedom” on Thursday. “As difficult as the current circumstances may be, we will carry on with our jobs with the aim to publish our papers as normal tomorrow,” it said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the arrests. Referring to the national security law as “Orwellian”, the press body said that the arrests “destroy any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports freedom of the press”.

“China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to eliminate the paper, which it sees as an annoying critic, but only at a steep price to be paid by the people of Hong Kong, who had enjoyed decades of free access to information,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

China’s national security law

The law was passed in June 2020 by the Chinese Parliament. The legislation overrode local laws and gave sweeping powers to security agencies. The law was aimed at curbing the pro-democracy protests and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism.

Various countries have criticised Beijing’s actions. In August, the United States administration had imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials in the territory and mainland China over their alleged roles in curtailing political freedoms and suppressing dissent. New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom also scrapped their extradition treaties with Hong Kong because of China’s law.