The founder of Apple Daily was arrested along with two of his sons and several of his colleagues at Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company, on Monday for allegedly colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.
His bail was set at HK$300,000 (US$38,705), with an HK$200,000 (US$25,803) surety.
Upon his release, Lai was met by swarms of media workers and supporters waiting outside holding copies of Apple Daily and chanting support slogans, “Support Apple! Support till the end!”
When news broke of his arrest, dozens of people lined up even in the early hours of 2 a.m. to support Lai and buy Apple Daily. Representatives of the publication said that they had printed 550,000 copies that day, a massive increase from its regular print circulation of 70,000.
One restaurant owner, who gave his surname as Ng, bought 50 copies at a newsstand and said that he intended to distribute them free of charge.
“Since the government doesn’t allow Apple Daily to survive, then we as Hong Kongers have to save it ourselves,” he said.
Next Media stock price surges
The stock price for Next Digital also experienced an historic surge in the two days of Lai’s detainment, rising by more than 1,100%.
However, a source who asked to remain anonymous that spoke to TMS suggested this boom in the stock’s value was not as encouraging as it might seem.
“The CCP don’t make deals, they put people in jail and then seize assets. Shares skyrocketed because Next Media will soon belong to the CCP,” the source said.
Separately, prominent student activist Agnes Chow Ting, also arrested for national security violations on Monday, was along with several others released a few hours before Lai.
As she left the station, she described her arrest as sudden and “the most scary” among the four she had previously faced.
“It is political persecution and political suppression. I still don’t understand why I was arrested,” said Chow.
The sudden show of support for Lai’s company appears to be a reaction against the police force’s wider crackdown on press freedoms and political dissent.
As it happened
Just after Lai’s arrest on Monday, a team of 200 officers descended on the Apple Daily headquarters. In addition to conducting searches in the offices of the employees who were arrested earlier in the day, reporters on the scene also captured officers on livestream breaching the terms of their search warrants and looking through other desks and documents.
While representatives of the police force defended this action as necessary for officers to determine where to look, onlookers remained skeptical as over 30 boxes of documents and computer hard drives were seized and loaded onto trucks outside.
The police force were further accused of undermining press freedoms by only allowing journalists from “trusted media outlets” to report on Monday’s events.
“Police expressed regret that some media had deliberately discredited police’s search operation,” said one department spokesperson.
Only reporters from 15 media agencies were allowed to report from within the areas cordoned off by the police, with journalists from other news agencies, such as Radio Television Hong Kong, and The Stand News, being forced to report from outside.
According to Kwok Ka-chuen, chief superintendent of the police force’s public relations branch, the scheme was established to combat a wake of “new challenges” in coordinating accurate media reporting and police operations in the past year.
The police denied they were abusing their power, adding that all journalists and citizen reporters could still report from outside police cordons to avoid disruption in police investigations.
This drew backlash from the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which condemned the police force for interfering with reporting.
“Lately the force has taken the initiative to define ‘journalists’ in order to interfere with media reporting. The HKJA urges the government to stop dodging from police brutality issues, or else it will be hard to maintain Hong Kong core values such as freedom and the rule of law,” it wrote in a letter.
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at [email protected]