Hongkongers stood in line in the early hours of Friday morning to buy print copies of pro-democracy newspaper the Apple Daily after it was raided by national security police on Thursday and several of its top executives arrested under the national security law.
The paper's print run hit a record high as the presses churned out 500,000 copies, after editors vowed to "press on" in spite of the raid and freezing of its assets in the biggest direct attack on Hong Kong's media by the authorities since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
As well as coverage of the raid on the paper, the front page also featured a headline which read: "Everyone must stand up," quoting the words of the paper's detained CEO, Cheung Kim-hung.
"We at the Apple Daily will remain faithfully at our posts and keep up the struggle to the bitter end, until the coming of dawn," the paper said in an editorial penned by senior staff.
Thanking readers for their support, it added: "No matter how difficult the path ahead may prove, we will walk it together."
By noon, copies of the paper had sold out at a number of convenience stores and newsstands in the Kowloon Bay and Mong Kok districts of Hong Kong.
Snapping up multiple copies
Some people told RFA they had bought multiple copies in support of the paper.
"I'm really surprised by this," the owner of a pro-protest "yellow" noodle shop, who gave only the nickname Polly, told RFA on Friday. "Hong Kong never used to be like this."
"I think we all need to keep [acts of resistance] going without fear," she said. "If we keep going, we will eventually win through into the light. Go Hongkongers!"
Yau Tsim Mong district councilor Derek Chu said a number of people had also bought hundreds of copies, then handed them to district councilors for distribution. The papers were all gone within half an hour, he said.
Hundreds of police officers raided the headquarters of jailed pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai's Next Digital in Tseung Kwan O at around 7.30 a.m. on Thursday, confiscating dozens of computers and arresting CEO Cheung Kim-hung, head of operations Royston Chow, chief editor Ryan Law, associate publisher Chan Pui-man and digital platform director Cheung Chi-wai.
The five were accused of breaking Article 29 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong pertaining to "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security," with the journalistic materials seized as "evidence," according to police.
Cheung and Law were charged on Friday with "conspiracy to collude with foreign powers to endanger national security," and are due to appear in Kowloon Magistrates' Court on Saturday.
"This will mark the city’s first prosecution of journalists for national security breaches," the paper said in a report on the charges on Friday. "The case is premised on some 30 as-yet unidentified articles published by Apple Daily since 2019."
Seizure of assets
Some of the evidence dates from before the national security law took effect at 11.00 p.m. on June 30, 2020.
At the same time, national security police froze U.S.$2.32 million in assets belonging to the Apple Daily, Apple Daily Printing and the AD Internet Company.
Thursday's raid was the second on the paper. The first came a few weeks after the national security law took effect, and resulted in the arrest of the paper's founder Jimmy Lai, 72, on charges of fraud and "collusion with a foreign power," as well as the seizure of his personal assets.
Like many defendants charged under the national security law, Lai was repeatedly denied bail. He is currently serving time in prison for "illegal assembly" over his attendance at peaceful protests.
Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA), said the raid by around 500 police officers on the Apple Daily was "horrifying."
"When there is no longer any protection for media workers or for journalistic materials, then people will be too afraid to talk to the media, for fear that disclosing certain information could get them into trouble," Yeung said.
"At the very least, they will feel more uneasy about doing so, and more likely to keep quiet," he said.
"The media itself will also be fearful, because they won't be able to protect their sources any more, so the problem of self-censorship will also get worse," Yeung said.
Reported by Gigi Lee, Cheng Yut Yiu, Chan Yun Nam and Lu Xi for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.