4 Apple Daily staff due in HK court

HONG KONG: Police patrol outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts building where a court hearing is taking place for Lam Man-chung, the former executive editor-in-chief of the now closed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, in Hong Kong, China on July 22. Tyrone Siu/Reuters

HONG KONG — Four staff members from the now-closed pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were set to appear in a Hong Kong court on Thursday to face charges of colluding with foreign forces under a national security law that has intensified fears over media freedoms.

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

Police, who typically do not name people under investigation, said they had charged four individuals, ages 51 to 57, including one who had been arrested on Wednesday.

Public broadcaster RTHK identified the four as staff of the former Apple Daily newspaper, including the former executive editor-in-chief, who was arrested on Wednesday.

The police force's 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. 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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