Former Apple Daily staffers plead guilty under China's national security law

Not so long ago, Hong Kong was a relatively free place and a newspaper called Apple Daily regularly published articles critical of mainland China. And then China instituted a national security law which gave them the right to arrest anyone who showed opposition to the mainland. One of the first casualties was Apple Daily.

In August of 2020, large column of police officers marched into the newspaper’s headquarters and started arresting people and gathering evidence. Here’s what that looked like.

The police had already arrested the paper’s owner, Jimmy Lai, at his home but brought him along in handcuffs to the office just to make it clear what was happening. Lai was charged with “collusion” with foreign forces. The government, in advance of a trial, froze his bank accounts so that Apple Daily would collapse. When that didn’t work, the mainland got more aggressive.

…so first, Hong Kong arrests Jimmy Lai last August. He’s been charged under this national security law for meeting with U.S. politicians and asking them to put sanctions on China. Then, they froze Lai’s personal bank account so he couldn’t keep funding Apple Daily. But the readers rallied. They bought more subscriptions. They donated. And so last week, Ryan Law, the editor-in-chief of the paper, and four other executives were arrested.

And most importantly, at the same time, police froze the corporate accounts for the paper, meaning although Apple Daily has money, they can’t access any of it to pay their staff or to cover the cost of printing. And that is why the paper is shutting down tomorrow. And its last print edition is supposed to be Saturday.

Having destroyed Apple Daily, China then moved on to the show trial phase. Lai and six former executives at the paper were charged under the national security law and today six of them pleaded guilty.

Six former executives of a now-defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a collusion charge under the National Security Law that has silenced and jailed most opposition voices in the southern Chinese territory.

The staff members of Apple Daily were arrested last year during a crackdown on dissent after Beijing imposed the sweeping security law in response to the widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.

The law criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Its maximum penalty is life imprisonment. But the six were expected to receive lesser penalties because of their guilty pleas.

Additional charges were dropped because they pleaded guilty.

They faced a separate joint count of “conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publication” under a colonial-era sedition law, with the alleged offence dating back to April 2019 before the national security law took effect…

The sedition charge against the six former executives was dropped on condition of their guilty pleas.

On July 1, 2020, the day after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, Apple Daily ran a front-page story criticising the new law as “evil” and a “final nail in the coffin” for Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” governing principle.

Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang highlighted 161 allegedly seditious articles published in print and online by Apple Daily, such as the July 1 report and a “fight for freedom” poster enclosed with the newspaper that day.

Apple Daily was right about the national security law. It’s nothing more than a vehicle for China’s mainland to crush dissent and send a message about what happens to people who call for freedom of expression. All of the people being prosecuted now are being punished for wanting to emulate the freedom we have in the United States.

The newspaper then started an English channel on its online platforms in May 2020 to appeal to the international community and particularly the United States, the court heard…

The United States, Britain, European Union, Canada, Germany, Taiwan and the “so-called international community generally” were among the entities from which Lai and his subordinates had sought attention, the prosecutor continued.

None of this is really surprising but it’s still shocking to watch the Chinese police state grind up the last vestiges of freedom in Hong Kong. As I said when Apple Daily was being raided two years ago, this is what China wants for the whole world.

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