UPDATE: Reports indicate that the six defendants may have pleaded guilty to lessen their sentences. Under Hong Kong's National Security Law, the six former Apple Daily staff face up to life imprisonment.
After appearing at Hong Kong’s High Court on November 22, former CEO of Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital, Cheung Kim-Hung, former editors, Ryan Law, Lam Man-chung and Fung Wai-kong, associate publisher, Chan Pui-man, and editorial writer, Yeung Ching, pled guilty to charges of collusion with foreign powers for their work with the news outlet.
The former outlet staff have been accused of conspiring with Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai in calling for sanctions on Hong Kong and China to support democratic movements in the city. According to court proceedings, the prosecution listed at least 161 articles allegedly demonstrating how Apple Daily had produced seditious statements and encouraged members of the public to take part in anti-government protests.
The involvement of defendants Cheung, Law, Lam, Chan, and Yeung in meetings with detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai was interrogated, wherein the prosecution argued their involvement in Apple Daily planning constituted collusion. The case was heard by a panel of three judges often selected for national security cases, Justices Ester Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee.
According to reports, Cheung Kim-Hung will testify at Jimmy Lai’s upcoming trial, which is scheduled to begin on December 1. Lai has attempted numerous appeals against his sentence, having been previously convicted of fraud for subletting the outlet’s office headquarters in October. Sentencing for all six defendants, including eligible reductions to penalties due to the submission of guilty pleas, will be processed after Lai’s trials.
The IFJ’s report, The Story That Won’t Be Silenced: Hong Kong Freedom of Expression Report details the destruction of independent journalism and the collapse of press freedom following the imposition of Hong Kong’s National Security Law. The report finds that at least 12 independent news organisations, including Apple Daily and Stand News, have permanently closed, with many media workers and activists arrested, threatened and imprisoned amid a brutal crackdown on civil society and the media.
The IFJ said: “Hong Kong’s National Security Law continues to be used to arbitrarily silence independent and critical voices and repress freedom of expression. As Jimmy Lai’s trial draws near, the guilty pleas from Apple Daily staff set a further grim precedent that legitimise the Hong Kong government’s gutting of independent media and press freedom. The IFJ condemns the ongoing legal persecution against Apple Daily staff and urges the Hong Kong authorities to drop all charges immediately.”