HK pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily increases production after police raid

HONG KONG, June 18 (Reuters) - Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily increased its Friday press run after 500 police officers raided its newsroom the previous day and seized reporting materials as part of a probe into whether articles threatened China’s national security.

Police arrested five executives, including Apple Daily’s chief editor, at dawn on Thursday and froze HK$18 million ($2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to the paper before cordoning off the building.

It was the second time police had raided the newsroom after the arrest last year of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist and staunch Beijing critic, who owns Next Digital , which publishes Apple Daily.

The newspaper increased the number of copies it printed on Friday to 500,000, up from Thursday’s 80,000, anticipating strong demand from readers in the city of 7.5 million. A similar number was printed after Lai’s arrest in August 2020.

One reader, Tsang, who only gave his last name because of the sensitivity of the matter, drove to a newsstand around midnight to buy two or three copies of the paper as soon as it was delivered from the press.

“You never know when this newspaper will die,” Tsang said. “As Hong Kongers, we need to preserve the history. Hang in there as long as we can. Although the road is rough, we still need to walk it, as there’s no other road.”

The front page of Apple Daily reported the raid, saying police seized 44 hard disk drives as evidence.

It was the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020 after almost a year of mass pro-democracy protests.

The European Union and Britain said the raid showed China was using the law to crack down on dissent rather than deal with public security. The United States said “selective” use of the law “arbitrarily” targeted independent media.

In a statement on Thursday, the Next Media staff union vowed to keep reporting.

“As difficult as the current circumstances may be, we will carry on with our jobs with the aim to publish our papers as normal,” it said. (Reporting by Jessie Pang and Donny Kwok; Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)