The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) warned Monday that more staffers from the now-defunct Apple Daily pro-democracy newspaper face arrest, as the Beijing-controlled city government works its way down a “list” of troublesome writers it has targeted for punishment.
HKJA chairman Ronson Chan told Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) that Apple Daily management shuttered the paper to protect their employees from persecution, but “we can still see many well-known journalists or commentary writers being arrested.”
“We are afraid that they have a list and still many journalists or commentary writers will be targeted by the police. So I’m afraid that the arrests will continue,” Chan said.
Former Apple Daily senior editor Fung Wai-kong, 57, was arrested at the island’s international airport Sunday night on charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.”
The same charge, leveled under the totalitarian “national security law” imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese central government last Summer, was employed to raid Apple Daily two weeks ago, arrest six other staffers and executives, and force the paper to shut down last Thursday.
“We are still very confused as to what is the standard of committing a crime under the national security law. We are still worried that writing reports, comments or editorials would be evidence of committing crime,” Chan said of the fearful mood among Hong Kong journalists.
The ripple effect from the Apple Daily crackdown is already being felt. Chan writes for a website called Stand News, second only to Apple Daily in popularity among pro-democracy activists. On Sunday, Stand News announced a series of protective measures for surviving in the oppressive new atmosphere of “speech crime” that has overtaken the city.
Among other steps, Stand News said it would delete older editorials, stop accepting monthly sponsorship payments from readers, and ask most of its board of directors to step down. The website said it has enough funding to continue operations for another 9 to 12 months at most.
“This will likely get little international media attention but it is a very, very dark moment for press freedom in Hong Kong,” observed former Apple Daily columnist Jack Hazlewood.
RTHK itself was evidently pressured into sacking four radio hosts for expressing opinions that displeased the government, as well as abruptly canceling a popular TV talk show.
One of the radio hosts, Allan Au, said the public broadcaster is replacing provocative employees with “more voices from the pro-establishment camp.”
Au said he was informed Monday would be his last day with RTHK only half an hour before he went on the air. He was not given a reason for his dismissal, but suspected it was based on critical opinion pieces he has written for other media outlets.
The other three pro-democracy RTHK broadcasters — Tsang Chi-ho, his co-host Jackie Chan, and Wilson Ching — were sacked on June 18. Tsang said he was not surprised by his own firing, “based on the political environment,” but he did not expect his co-workers to be “implicated” in his speech crimes.
“I have continued to talk about not-so-very mainstream political values in various media and platforms. I think that has violated their political atmosphere,” Tsang said of his firing by RTHK.