Police in Hong Kong have reportedly arrested an Apple Daily editor as he tried to flee the territory, making him the seventh person from the pro-democracy paper to be taken into custody in recent weeks.
The tabloid was forced to close on Thursday, exactly seven days after hundreds of police raided its headquarters and detained five of its executives.
The authorities froze the organisation’s assets, leaving it unable to function. The decision to cease operations was also taken for the safety of its staff, its management said.
Local media reported that Fung Wai-kong, an editor and columnist at the newspaper, was arrested at the airport on Sunday. Like his colleagues, he was charged with violating a controversial national security law imposed on the territory by China a year ago.
Dozens of articles published by the Apple Daily may have breached this legislation, authorities have warned.
Although the police did not identify the detainee, it confirmed that a 57-year-old man was being held for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security”.
Such language is typical of the vague, catch-all terms of the national security law, which criminalises offences such as “subversion” and “collusion with foreign powers”.
His newspaper’s closure last week was heavily criticised by world leaders, with the UK’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab describing it as a “chilling blow to freedom of expression” in the former British colony.
Meanwhile, Carrie Lam, the leader of the Hong Kong government, parried off such criticism by saying that apologists for the newspaper were trying to “beautify” acts that threatened national security.
After the latest arrest, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association condemned the police for its continued targeting of journalists.
China’s attacks against press freedoms are also affecting other outlets in the city, with Stand News, a pro-democracy news website, saying it would no longer accept readers’ donations as a result of the clampdown.
Lam Yin-pong, assignment editor at the outfit, said the recent wave of Apple Daily arrests was “one of the main motivating factors” for the company’s decision.
Last week, one of the Apple Daily’s employees said there was no longer any press freedom in the territory, adding: “I cannot see any future in Hong Kong.”
Many others share the same view, as tens of thousands of people have fled their home town for exile in countries like the UK, which has set up a visa scheme for Hong Kongers.
Additional reporting from Reuters