(New York, NY) — The arrest of an editorial writer at the Apple Daily represents the deepening criminalization of free expression in Hong Kong under the draconian National Security Law, PEN America said today.

“There is no more obvious sign that freedom of the press is being trampled than when a newspaper columnist is arrested for their words. From all appearances, that is exactly what is happening here,” said PEN America’s director of research, James Tager. “The government’s assault on Apple Daily has already made it abundantly clear that authorities will use the Hong Kong National Security Law to actively dismantle press freedom. The arrest of Li Ping makes it even more clear that Hong Kong police intend to treat words and opinions as crimes. We call upon Hong Kong authorities to immediately reverse course, and on the international community to insist that officials stop their assault on HongKongers’ civic freedoms.”

Last week, Hong Kong police raided the offices of Apple Daily, the city’s most prominent pro-democracy newspaper, freezing the newspaper’s assets and arresting five executives associated with the paper. On Wednesday, police confirmed the arrest of a writer for the paper “on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” The Apple Daily later confirmed that their opinion writer, Li Ping, had been detained. Li has reportedly written numerous pieces for Apple Daily criticizing government crackdowns on dissent and on the media.

With its assets suspended, Apple Daily was forced to print its last edition Thursday. PEN America called the closure “a death knell for independent media in Hong Kong.” Also this week, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam defended the raid on Apple Daily, saying, ““Don’t try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the national security law to suppress the media or stifle freedom of expression.” When asked to define what journalistic work would violate the National Security Law, Lam largely demurred, saying “journalists should be in a position to judge whether one is breaching the law.”

The Hong Kong National Security Law, imposed on the city by China’s parliament in June 2020, criminalizes a range of expression and activity deemed to threaten “national security,” with potential punishment of up to life imprisonment. The law also dramatically expands both Hong Kong and mainland police authority to investigate such claims. In the wake of the law, police have arrested more than 100 people, including high-profile critics of the government. PEN America is among those groups that have warned that the law is being employed as a tool to target critics, representing “a wholesale attack on democracy in Hong Kong, and a criminalization of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and freedom of association.”