HK police arrest Apple Daily columnist over alleged collusion with foreigners

The Apple Daily columnist was reportedly arrested on suspicion of conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign forces. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Police have arrested a 55-year-old columnist at Apple Daily for possible national security offences as the newspaper prepares for its final publication on Saturday (June 26).

According to the embattled tabloid, the man, whose real name is Yang Qing Qi, is a key person on the China desk and writes under the name of Li Ping.

Local media said the writer was nabbed at the tabloid's office in Tseung Kwan O on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers.

The police said investigations are under way and more people could be arrested.

The paper's management on Wednesday told its remaining staff to stay home.

The Standard reported that the 26-year-old paper is expected to increase its Friday press run to one million copies for Saturday before it folds for good.

In a statement, the board of Next Digital, which publishes the paper, said the final edition will be released on Saturday and thanked its supporters.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday (June 22) responded to criticism of the government's actions against the pro-democracy publication, calling it an attempt to "beautify" acts endangering national security.

She stressed that the accusations by the United States that the national security law is used as a tool to stifle freedom of expression and suppress the media in Hong Kong "are wrong".

"What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists. It is violating the law as defined in the national security law and based on very clear evidence, which will bring the case to court.

"So don't try to underplay the significance of breaking the national security law and don't try to beautify these acts of endangering national security," she said.

Her comments come as Apple Daily ended some of its offerings on Tuesday, including Next Magazine, English services and finance news.

It also aired its last live news show on Monday night, days ahead of an expected full closure that some say could come as early as Wednesday (June 23) or by Saturday (June 26).

Already, at least half the staff have resigned, while some say they will stay on until the end.

Employees were told on Monday that the newspaper did not have sufficient funds to continue operations after Hong Kong authorities froze its HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) assets as part of a national security probe.

Last Friday (June 18), Apple Daily's editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive of Next Digital Cheung Kim Hung were charged with conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security.

They are in remand and now face the prospect of life imprisonment.

Five executives of Apple Daily and Next Digital were arrested last Thursday, including the two men charged. The other three - chief operating officer Chow Tat Kuen, deputy chief editor Chan Pui Man and chief executive editor Cheung Chi Wai - are out on bail but not charged.

The arrests were made the same morning 500 officers raided Apple Daily's Tseung Kwan O office, prompting the city's journalism bodies to decry the move as a heavy blow to press freedom.

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