About 500 police officers raided Next Digital’s headquarters and the homes of its five executives, taking away evidence including news material.
Officers from the national security department, crime wing and police tactical unit searched the headquarters in Tseung Kwan O for five hours from 7am yesterday.
Officers took boxes of material that included computer hard drives, while Apple Daily said 38 computers belonging to its journalists were seized.
Staff said computers used by its local news, political news and animated news units were taken away.
Police also examined computers at the editorial department.
Its executive editor-in-chief, Lam Man-chung, said police seized the computers of editorial managers, took away documents and news material, and went through computers before staff arrived at the office.
Lam said he was one of four staff allowed to “witness” the search.
Officers also searched areas where servers were placed, as well as the company’s finance and information and communications technology departments. The five executives arrested at home were escorted into their offices separately with their hands cuffed behind their backs.
They were taken to Tseung Kwan O, Chai Wan, Cheung Sha Wan and Western police stations.
There were media reports that the police forced their way into Chan Pui-man’s flat, searched it for more than two hours, and seized two laptops and a tablet that do not belong to her.
Chan’s husband, Chung Pui-kuen, who is the editor-in-chief of Stand News, said his wife stayed calm and strong and her lawyer was assisting.
Senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the national security department said police acquired a search warrant issued by the court in accordance with the national security law.
Li said the five arrested played a crucial part in company operations and they have “undeniable responsibility” in the publication of the articles calling foreign countries or institutions to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China from 2019, before the national security law came into effect on June 30 last year.
“Our inquiry revealed that, in the newspaper and on the internet, more than 30 articles requested foreign countries or institutions to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China, in English and Chinese as well,” he said.
“We have very strong evidence that the questionable articles play a very crucial part in the conspiracy which provides the ammunition for the foreign countries and institutions or organizations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.”
During the raid, the newspaper’s staff were asked to leave their seats and stay in a designated area as Li said the building was considered a “crime scene” and officers had to conduct the search without disturbance.
It was the second wave of arrests and raid targeting Next Digital and Apple Daily since August. Including the five held yesterday, eight have been arrested, along with founder Jimmy Lai.
Lai was arrested for allegedly colluding with foreign forces as well as conspiracy to defraud.
Cheung Kim-hung and Royston Chow were also among those arrested in August.
Lai’s shares in Next Digital and three private companies, and all assets in local bank accounts, were frozen last month. Also arrested in August were Lai’s two sons, Timothy and Ian, the media group’s administrative director Wong Wai-keung and animation manager Ng Tat-kwong.
Lai, Chow and Wong have been charged with fraud.
The 73-year-old Lai is serving a 20-month sentence in Stanley Prison for his role in unauthorized assemblies in 2019.
He also faces charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and national security offenses that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In March, the former executive director of Next Digital, Stephen Ting Ka-yu, was arrested for alleged fraud.
The latest arrests were celebrated by seven people outside Apple Daily’s headquarters.
They carried a banner and accused Apple Daily of spreading anti-China fake news and harming national security.